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

Saturday, October 19, 2019

The French Adrian Helmet


James Patton

Our Friend Olivier Pierrard in Authentic Kit,
Including the Adrian Helmet

In the early months of WWI all of the combatants were wearing headgear better suited for parade grounds rather than in artillery barrages. French soldiers wore a cloth cap, called the képi, which was actually a frenchized spelling of the German word kappe

It soon became clear that falling shrapnel and shell fragments from air-bursting indirect artillery fire were causing a large number of head wounds, even to soldiers in good defensive positions. The French were the first to respond to this crisis by issuing a steel skullcap called the calotte métallique, cervelière, to be worn under the képi, which was soon supplanted by a true helmet. 

Adrian Helmets Under Production

Medical concerns were subordinated to the determination to make the helmet look "military," so visors, a badge plate, and a Roman-like crest were added, the latter feature made the helmet somewhat resemble a German Pickelhaube (sans the spike). The holes necessary for mounting the crest made the helmet less strong.

Industry weighed in on this, too, wanting a design that was easy and inexpensive to make, so the helmet was made from mild steel and was of a lighter gauge than the foreign counterparts, weighing only 1.1 pounds. Eventually the helmet came with a cover to reduce reflectivity (soldiers had been coating their helmets with mud to address this problem), but it was then found that bits of the cover were infecting head wounds, so the reflectivity problem was addressed by using a rough finish instead. The helmet got the name Casque Adrian from General August-Louis Adrian, who was the officer in charge of the program, and was designated the M15.

The burning question is: How effective were these helmets? An answer: Data collected by the British showed a dramatic decline in the incidence of head wounds. 

An Adrian Helmet for Sale in Bulgaria

The Adrian pattern was the first protective helmet to be widely released, with deliveries beginning in mid-1915, and well over three million were produced. In addition to France, other combatant nations that used the Adrian were Belgium, Greece, Italy, Japan, Romania, Serbia, Siam, and in limited quantities Russia and the U.S. [The four U.S. segregated regiments assigned to the French Army wore the Adrian helmet.] In the postwar years at least ten other countries also bought Adrian helmets.

In 1926 France produced an updated model, the M26, which remained their standard until 1942, when the Free French forces adopted the U.S. helmet M-1941.

Originally Presented at the KANSAS WW1 Website, 24 February 2018

Friday, October 18, 2019

Map Series #10: The 5th Division, AEF, Crosses the Meuse



Very Early and Just-Completed Monument to the 5th Division's Meuse River Crossing
Note Meuse Heights in Distance

As part of the final phase of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive—launched 1 November 1918—the III Corps of the AEF's First Army, composed of the 90th and 5th Divisions, was given the objective of crossing the Meuse River and seizing the Meuse River Heights to the east. One of the most advantageous points for exploiting the initial crossing and moving promptly upland was at the river town of Dun-sur-Meuse.  The town was in the zone of the 5th Division.

Click on Image to Enlarge



The above map is from the Official History of the 5th Division.  It shows the advance of the division from its starting point on 1 November and pivoting  up to the river, where it arrived on 4 November. Note that the map does not clearly depict that there is both the river and a parallel canal running below the town.

Click on Image to Enlarge



This is a photograph taken by a U.S. Air Service reconnaissance aircraft on 2 November 1918 of the area around Dun-sur-Meuse. The 5th Division successfully forced a crossing of the river and canal at this location over the 4th and 5th of November. Sometime after the action, Cartographer Sergeant Major Willard B. Prince of the 5th Division Intelligence Section made the annotations on the photograph.  The Library of Congress holds Prince's World War I collection.


Sources:  Maps of the First World War: An Illustrated Essay and List of Select Maps in the Library of Congress; Official History of the Fifth Division, AEF; and the Michelin Meuse-Argonne Battlefield Guide.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Inside Germany, 1914–1918


One of the most insightful accounts of life inside Germany, 1914–1918,  was a paper with that title read to the Chicago Literary Club in April 1941 by law and political science professor Max Rheinstein of the University of Chicago. He had lived in Germany throughout the war, served in uniform in its last stages, and had emigrated to the United States in 1933. His paper can be downloaded HERE, but perhaps before reading his account here's a little information from Wikipedia on Rheinstein's interesting career.

Professor Rheinstein
Max Rheinstein was born on 5 July 1899, in Bad Kreuznach, the only son of wine merchant Ferdinand Rheinstein (1842–1904) and Rosalie Bernheim (1858–1928). He fought in the German Army in World War I and subsequently studied law at the University of Munich. In the spring of 1919 Rheinstein participated in the overthrow of the Bavarian Soviet Republic. Becoming an assistant of Ernst Rabel, Rheinstein received his doctorate in law in 1924. He subsequently followed Rabel to Berlin as a research lecturer at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Foreign and International Private Law, where he supervised the institute library. He joined the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) in 1928.

Unlike other SPD members and Jews, Rheinstein was not dismissed from his position after the Nazi seizure of power, due to the fact that he had fought the Bavarian Soviet Republic in 1919. In February 1933, he received a scholarship from the Rockefeller Foundation, and emigrated to the United States, where he began working at Columbia Law School. In 1936 he was appointed Max Pam Professor of American and Foreign Law and Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago Law School, a position he held until his retirement in 1968. Rheinstein became an American citizen in 1940. After World War II, Rheinstein returned to Germany, where he was a member of the Legal Division of the Office of Military Government and served in a division of the Allied Control Council in Berlin.

In 1953, Rheinstein was awarded the Ordre des Palmes académiques and the Great Cross of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1954. Until 1968 he was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Rheinstein moved to Palo Alto, California, in 1976 for health reasons. He died in Bad Gastein, Austria on 9 July 1977.

From Wikipedia:

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Why Is There an Australian Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux, France?


Villers-Bretonneux Australian National Memorial

Answer: Near the sites of several of the notable victories of Australian forces in France, Villers-Bretonneux is the principal memorial to the Australians who served and died on the Western Front in the Great War.

On 21 March 1918, after massing forces for one last offensive on the Western Front, the German Army staged a stunning breakthrough of the British lines in the St. Quentin area near Péronne, France. Their intention was to drive a wedge between the British Empire and French forces on the Western Front and capture key ports. The British were forced back across the old Somme battlefields of 1916. To the south, French divisions also fell back and reinforcements were rushed in. The Australian Corps, north of the German breakthrough, was ordered south to assist British and Canadian forces. Over the next month the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th Australian Divisions fought at a number of locations in the area of the Ancre and Somme rivers. One of the key battles was by the 5th Division at Villers-Bretonneux on 24–25 April 1918.

Villers-Bretonneux was a key position, sitting on a plateau overlooking the lower area of the Somme, Avre, and Noye rivers. On 4 April, the Germans reached Monument Wood, on the edge of Villers- Bretonneux. Among those facing the enemy were Australians of the 9th Brigade. When it looked as if the shattered village might fall, troops of its 36th Battalion charged and the Germans at Monument Wood retreated. The line in this sector was then secured for the time being.

The Fighting in the Area Depicted at the Memorial's
Monash Centre Museum

On 17–18 April, after battles elsewhere, the Germans again began focusing on Villers-Bretonneux. German artillery lobbed mustard gas shells into the woods and gullies behind the township, inflicting over 1,000 casualties on Australian and British forces. Over the next few days, British divisions took over this sector, but at dawn on 24 April the Germans again attacked strongly and in spite of intense fighting, Villers-Bretonneux fell. That day, British and German tank crews engaged in the first-ever tank duel—one of the German tanks, Mephisto, was later captured and is a prized exhibit at the Queensland Museum, a unique tangible link to this historic battle. British commanders planned an immediate counterattack as they needed to recapture Villers-Bretonneux before the Germans could complete their defensive works. The 13th and 15th Brigades, making up two-thirds of the 5th Australian Division, were given the task. The brigade commanders, Brigadier Generals William Glasgow and Harold "Pompey" Elliott, ordered to attack the village frontally in daylight, refused. It most likely would have failed and the casualty count would have been high. As Glasgow declared, "If God Almighty gave the order, we couldn't do it by daylight."

Many doubted the counterattack could succeed. One infantryman wrote that it was "an almost impossible proposition." The Australian official historian, Charles Bean, who was nearby, scrawled in his diary: "I don't believe they have a chance." The 13th Brigade assembled for the main assault to start at 10 P.M., earlier than Glasgow wanted. The Germans spotted his troops assembling and began firing from the heights. As the Australians advanced, they came under heavy machine gun fire from woodlands. Sergeant Charlie Stokes, 51st Battalion, urged his platoon commander, Lieutenant C.W.K. Sadlier, to deviate from the plan and enter the wood to disable the machine guns. They destroyed six machine-gun posts in quick succession, enabling the advance to continue. For their initiative, leadership and gallantry, Stokes was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal and Sadlier the Victoria Cross. On the other side of Villers-Bretonneux, to the north, the 15th Brigade also advanced.

Villers-Bretonneux After the April Battles

The troops pushed hard to move past the village and, in a classic pincer movement, link up with the 13th Brigade to encircle the village and trap German troops holding it. In the darkness and confusion of battle, the 13th Brigade was not able to reach its final objective, pulling back slightly to consolidate. This meant the village was not completely encircled and some German troops managed to escape. After daylight, the Australians pushed on and filled the gap, encircling and liberating the village. It never again, during World War I, fell into enemy hands.

The capture of Villers-Bretonneux with such speed and finesse astounded troops on both sides. It was another shattering blow to the Germans, whose last great offensive faltered. A British observer described it as "perhaps the greatest individual feat of the war" up to that time. The cost to Australia was some 2,500 men killed or wounded. On 4 July the Australian Corps with a little American help would capture the village of Hamel, just north of Villers-Bretonneux in General Monash's tactical masterpiece. In August they would launch their component of the successful Battle of Amiens from the sector.

Australian Soldiers and a British Tank, 8 August 1918

At the conclusion of the First World War, the Australian Government approved the erection of a National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux to commemorate the deeds of the Australian Imperial Forces on the Western Front.

Owing principally to the financial situation during the depression years, the construction of the memorial was delayed. The memorial was eventually dedicated on 8 August 1938 by King George VI of England, in the presence of the queen, the president of France, Monsieur Albert Le Brun, Australia's deputy prime minister Sir Earl Page and General Lord Birdwood, commander of operations at Gallipoli. The memorial consists of a great central tower flanked by wing walls carrying panels commemorating the 10,772 Australian casualties who died in France and who have no known grave.

The Villers-Bretonneux area again became a battlefield during the Second World War, and the memorial was extensively damaged. The two stone pavilions situated at the end of each wing of the structure were hit by shellfire and some of their columns were broken. The walls, inscribed with the names of fallen Australian soldiers were very pitted and some obliterated. 

(From the Australian Office of War Graves)

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Armistice 1918


By Bullitt Lowry
Kent State University Press, 1996
John D. Beatty, MA, Reviewer


Writing in 1996 from the distance of nearly 80 years, the late Dr. Bullitt Lowry wrote one of the first comprehensive studies of the four different armistices between the Central Powers, the Entente, and the United States that were required to end the Great War:

  • Armistice of Salonika for Bulgaria, signed 29 September
  • Armistice of Mudros for the Ottoman Empire, signed 30 October
  • Armistice of Villa Giusti for Austria-Hungary, signed 3 November
  • Armistice of Compiègne for Germany, signed 11 November

General Franchet d'Espèrey
Most readers see only that four different instruments were needed, but the issues were nowhere that simple, and Dr. Lowry does a fine job of summarizing them. The fundamental problem seems to have been that in the late summer and early fall of 1918, no one in power had thought a great deal about how to end the slaughter. . . except that upstart across the sea, President Woodrow Wilson with his Fourteen Points. These were generally well received in public but derided in private. The resulting diplomatic confusion, rushed conferences, and growing lists of demands and exchanges of notes would have been comical if thousands weren't dying every day as the generals and admirals, politicians, and diplomats dithered and squabbled.

In late September 1918, Bulgaria dropped out of the fighting. She was getting no support from Germany and she could no longer defend herself, so she asked for an armistice and got one four days later. This was facilitated by the fact that only one national commander, France's General Louis Franchet d'Espèrey, and his political leader, Georges Clemenceau, had anything to do with it, though the British did approve of it, and Bulgaria was in no position to negotiate anything. Dr. Lowry, appropriately, gives the event itself short shrift.

Wilson, however, then declared that the Salonika armistice was to be a model for all the rest . . . and when the Germans and others started looking for a way out, the real disagreements began. Germany sent her first diplomatic note 3 October 1918, asking Wilson to intervene in seeking an armistice based on the Fourteen Points. But the US had "associated powers" who had been bleeding for three years longer than the US had, and some of those European noses were put diplomatically out of joint. Dr. Lowry's subsequent descriptions–brief but succinct–of the polite chaos that ensued, the hurt political feelings, the demands of the generals and the admirals, the wants of the French for reparations and the relative diplomatic isolation of the poor Belgians are well worth reading.

Each of the German notes, each debate, each of the Fourteen Points, are weighed against each other–the First German Note in three separate chapters–discussing the responses of the Conference of Prime Ministers, the US and the Fourteen Points, and Great Britain. The point keeps coming back, unambiguously, that no Entente state truly knew what their war aims were in the late fall of 1918, and they had not discussed the matter–even internally–at all.

Yet the reader is also constantly reminded that the one thing that the Entente wanted was a peace that would last more than a few weeks or even years. Clearly, no one in any Entente capital was aware of how bad conditions were in Germany or Austria-Hungary, or even that the Ottomans were ripe for revolution. Germany had fifteen-year-old boys in the trenches; Austria-Hungary was blowing apart with no one truly in charge in Vienna; and Turkey was ready to shed its Ottoman Empire just to gain some notions of statehood.

However, Dr. Lowry makes it clear that nobody who was going to accept the surrender of the Central Powers knew any of this for certain. What was also clear was that the potential combat power of the United States was either ignored or unappreciated during these discussions. This was demonstrated when Foch asked his fellow generals if the politicians could reach an acceptable armistice if the Entente could carry the war into Germany in the next year: all but General John J. Pershing answered "no." The European armies had no idea that Pershing could bring twice again as many American soldiers to Europe by the spring of 1919, and would dwarf the German, British and French armies in the doing.

At Compiègne, 11 November 1918

But the sheer size of the 1919 campaign was still a theory. Meanwhile, the influenza pandemic was decimating populations worldwide and the politicians grew worried about the specter of Bolshevism that could seize Central Europe, if they grabbed too many of the German's and Austrian's guns, or demobilized too many soldiers. At the same time, Wilson's Fourteen Points were debated everywhere. While Wilson wanted them to be the terms of a new world order, they were both too vague and too specific. Moreover, Wilson's man for selling those Fourteen Points was "Colonel" Edwin House, a minister without portfolio, who never stood for election nor was vetted by Congress, but who wanted to be the chief delegate at the peace conference. To that end, Dr. Lowry makes it clear, some of House's more Machiavellian machinations intended to make sure Wilson stayed home backfired.

For those who look to this book for proof that the unconditional surrender policies of the 1939-45 conflict were sound, the reader will be disappointed. Dr. Lowry is succinct in drawing the obvious difference: in 1918 the Entente and the US were looking to stop the slaughter for as long as was reasonable; in 1943 and 1945, the United Nations was looking to dismantle the Italian, German and Japanese regimes altogether. A simple cease-fire would not be enough.

Armistice 1918 is neither the definitive (I don't like that concept, anyway) nor a comprehensive work of its kind, but it is readable, informative, and an excellent primer on the issue of war-ending, the perils of coalition warfare, and the politics that would beset the Versailles conference that followed. The book is 245 pages and includes a table of contents, maps (5), and a select bibliography. Well worth the read.

John D. Beatty

Monday, October 14, 2019

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Recommended: World War I as Fulfillment: Power and the Intellectuals by Professor Murray N. Rothbard

Editor's Comment:  This is a long, 45-page read, and I don't endorse everything in it, but I learned an awful lot of things in it about the war that I've never seen addressed elsewhere.  MH

Originally Published: Journal of Libertarian Studies 9, No. 1 (1989)

Professor Rothbard
In contrast to older historians who regarded World War I as the destruction of progressive reform, I am convinced that the war came to the United States as the "fulfillment," the culmination, the veritable apotheosis of progressivism in American life. I regard progressivism as basically a movement on behalf of Big Government in all walks of the economy and society, in a fusion or coalition between various pups of big businessmen, led by the House of Morgan, and rising groups of technocratic and statist intellectuals. In this fusion, the values and interests of both groups would be pursued through government.

Big business would be able to use the government to cartelize the economy, restrict competition, and regulate production and prices, and also to be able to wield a militaristic and imperialist foreign policy to force open markets abroad and apply the sword of the State to protect foreign investments. Intellectuals would be able to use the government to restrict entry into their professions and to assume jobs in Big Government to apologize for, and to help plan and staff, government operations. Both groups also believed that, in this fusion, the Big State could be used to harmonize and interpret the "national interest" and thereby provide a "middle way" between the extremes of "dog-eat-dog" laissez faire and the bitter conflicts of proletarian Marxism.

Also animating both groups of progressives was a post-millennia pietist Protestantism that had conquered "Yankee" areas of northern Protestantism by the 1830s and had impelled the pietists to use local, state, and finally federal governments to stamp out "sin," to make America and eventually the world holy, and thereby to bring about the Kingdom of God on earth. The victory of the Bryanite forces at the Democratic national convention of 1896 destroyed the Democratic Party as the vehicle of "liturgical" Roman Catholics ad German Lutherans devoted to personal liberty and laissez faire and created the roughly homogenized and relatively non-ideological party system we have today. After the turn of the century, this development created an ideological and power vacuum for the expanding number of progressive technocrats and administrators to fill. In that way, the locus of government shifted from the legislature, at least partially subject to democratic check, to the oligarchic and technocratic executive branch.

World War I brought the fulfillment of all these progressive trends. Militarism, conscription, massive intervention at home and abroad, a collectivized war economy, all came about during the war and created a mighty cartelized system that most of its leaders spent the rest of their lives trying to recreate, in peace as well as war. In the World War I chapter of his outstanding work, Crisis and Leviathan, Professor Robert Higgs concentrates on the war economy and illuminates the interconnections with conscription. In this paper, I would like to concentrate on an area that Professor Higgs relatively neglects: the coming to power during the war of the various groups of progressive intellectual. I use the term "intellectual''in the broad sense penetratingly described by F. A. Hayek: that is, not merely theorists and academicians, but also all manner of opinion-molders in society writers, journalists, preachers, scientists, activists of all sort-what Hayek calls "secondhand dealers in ideas."' Most of these intellectuals, of whatever strand or occupation, were either dedicated, messianic post-millennial pietists or else former pietists, born in a deeply pietist home, who, though now secularized, still possessed an intense messianic belief in national and world salvation through Big Government. But, in addition, oddly but characteristically, most combined in their thought ad agitation messianic moral or religious fervor with an empirical, allegedly "value-free" and strictly "scientific" devotion to social science. Whether it be the medical profession's combined scientific and moralistic devotion to stamping out sin or a similar position among economists or philosophers, this blend is typical of progressive intellectuals.

The Big Moment: Wilson Asks for War

In this paper, I will be dealing with various examples of individual or groups of progressive intellectuals, exulting in the triumph of their creed and their own place in it, as a result of America's entry into World War I.

There is no better epigraph for the remainder of this paper than a congratulatory note sent to President Wilson after the delivery of his war message on April 2, 1917. The note was sent by Wilson's son-in-law and fellow Southern pietist and progressive, Secretary of the Treasury William Gibbs McAdoo, a man who had spent his entire life as an industrialist in New York City, solidly in the J. P. Morgan ambit. McAdoo wrote to Wilson: "You have done a great thing nobly! I firmly believe that it is God's will that America should do this transcendent service for humanity throughout the world and that you are His chosen instrument."  It was not a sentiment with which the president could disagree.


Download the full article (pdf) HERE

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Zeppelins Over Hull


The coastal city of Hull (more properly, Kingston-on-Hull) in Yorkshire is known for suffering mightily in the Blitz of World War II. It is less appreciated, however, that the city was also targeted in the First World War. 


The top image is of Zeppelin L-11, which was driven off by guns and searchlights in a raid of 5/6 April 1916. The defenses were not so successful at other times, though. The images below show damage to Holy Trinity Church and a residential neighborhood. Fifty-one citizens were killed in the worst of the raids. 

Thanks to Steve Suddaby for the text and images.

Friday, October 11, 2019

An Army of Munitions Workers: Britain's Female Work Force



By 1915 it was apparent that Britain was not manufacturing enough ammunition to supply the front lines. Too few shells were being produced, and too many of those that were,failed to explode. In response to this "shell scandal the government created a new Ministry of Munitions, which increased government control over weapons production, created 73 new factories, and repurposed many others. Hundreds of thousands of new workers rapidly stepped up production. In April 1915, just two million rounds of shells had been sent to France. By the end of the war, that figure stood at 187 million rounds.The stories gathered in this chapter show how this tremendous rate of productivity transformed life for many on the home front, not least the new, mostly female workforce

Checking and tightening shells, Nottinghamshire IWM (Q 30041)

After the introduction of conscription in March 1916, the government encouraged women to take the place of male employees who were serving at the front. By 1918 nearly one million women were employed in engineering and munitions industries. Known as Munitionettes, these women became the poster girls for the war effort and were frequently photographed and filmed to emphasize the importance of their contribution to the war effort.

Many of the female workers at the vast shell filling factory in Chilwell in the suburbs of Nottingham lived in an industrial complex that was like a small city, with its own power station, 125 miles of railway track, 34 railway engines, giant laundries, a ballroom, a cinema, two purpose-built townships, and kitchens producing 14,000 meals and 13,000 loaves of bread a day.

On break and at the job at the shell filling factory, Chilwell

Long shifts were commonplace in the factories, and there are reports of women passing out after working 12 hours continuously, without eating. Factory work was monotonous, and women  often found themselves doing jobs that had been simplified into a series of unskilled tasks. Work in the factories was hazardous. Employees handled explosives and noxious substances known to cause a range of medical disorders, from skin complaints to bone disintegration. Manufacturing mustard and other gases was particularly perilous; sickness rates were so high at HM Factory in Chittening Road in Bristol  that workers were entitled to one week of holiday for every 20 days worked. 

Women workers assembling fuses in the fuse shop, Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, in London
May 1918 IWM (Q 27862)

Fatalities in the factories were not uncommon, and the filling factories where workers assembled the metal and explosive components of shells were particularly vulnerable. An estimated 600 people were killed by accidental explosions during the course of the war. The greatest loss of life occurred in July 1918 following an enormous explosion in the mixing house at the National Shell Filling Station at Chilwell in Nottinghamshire. Hundreds were injured abd134 people lost their lives. Despite extensive damage, the factory was back up and running within four days.

Munitionettes’ Cup winners, Blyth Spartans from Croft Park in Newcastle. The team beat steelworkers Bolckow Vaughan 5-0 in a match which attracted a crowd of 22,000. Photo courtesy Yvonne Crawford.

Sport, especially football, was encouraged among the new female work force, and many munitions factories established their own ladies’ football teams. In 1918, the knock-out competition  Munitionettes’ Cup attracted 30 teams; matches drew crowds of tens of thousands of spectators and raised large sums of money for the war effort. Despite their popularity, in 1921 the FA banned women’s football matches at their grounds, and this ban was only lifted in 1971.

From: World War One at Home,  produced by the Imperial War Museum, BBC, and Centenary Commission.  Thanks to Paul Albright for bringing this to our attention.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

A MESSAGE FOR OUR FAITHFUL READERS


I need to share a little reminder once in a while that though Roads to the Great War  and our monthly e-newsletter, The St. Mihiel Trip-Wire,  are free to you our readers, they are not free to produce. We try to cover our costs by selling our WWI Musical CD and our Complete Collective DVD for our subscription magazine, OVER THE TOP. I hope you will  consider purchasing these items to support us. 

Thank you for your continued readership,

Mike Hanlon, Editor/Publisher



Click HERE to order our Complete Collection DVD



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Wednesday, October 9, 2019

An Awful Touch of War: The 27th New York Division at the Hindenburg Line


We've had our real touch of war and it has been awful.
Pvt. John Bowman, 108th Infantry, 27th Division

Smashing the Hindenburg Line by Frank Schoonover

The painting above, by an official American war artist, accurately captures some important features of the assault in the Somme region on the strongest element of Germany's defensive Hindenburg Line over the last few days of September 1918.  Note that on the right side of the illustration the Doughboys are advancing up a slope toward the cover of the St. Quentin Canal Tunnel (see map below), the anchor of the German line. On the bottom, and to the left, however, the Yanks are facing the rear, fighting Germans who have popped up infiltrating their rear.  Also, in the distance can be seen a disabled tank.  Tanks were a dismal failure in this attack.  

Two American divisions, the 27th New York National Guard and the 30th Tennessee/Carolina National Guard, attacked side-by-side in this operation. In this article we focus on the 27th Division because they had much the worst of it. Over four days the division would have 1,028 men killed and 3,614 wounded. The division did not come close to capturing their objectives for the assault, the villages of le Catelet and Gouy.  As rifle companies were decimated, troops of the Australian 3rd Division were rushed in to stabilize the faltering American lines. The official account below tells the tale as a matter of fact but is quite chilling in its details. I've inserted a few clarifications here and there.  


27th DIVISION SUMMARY OF OPERATIONS IN THE WORLD WAR
American Battle Monuments Commission, 1944

The 27th Division Arriving in the Sector

During the night of 24–25 September, the 27th Division relieved the British 18th and 74th Divisions, British III Corps, 4th Army, opposite the Hindenburg Line, west of Bony. Command passed to the 27th Division on the morning of September 25. Since the British III Corps had failed to secure the designated line of departure for the general attack against the Hindenburg which was to be launched on 29 September, the American II Corps, composed of the 27th and 30th Divisions, was given the mission. The 27th Division was ordered to make the necessary advance on 27 September.

At 5:30 a.m., 27 September, the 106th Infantry attacked the general line, Bois de Malakoff,—the Knoll, as its objective. The advance was made, but the gains could not be held. The net result was a small gain on each flank. The 53rd Infantry Brigade (105th and 106th Infantry) was relieved by the 54th Infantry Brigade (107th and 108th Infantry) during the night of 27–28 September.

The mission of the II Corps, in the general attack of 29 September was to secure the objective, Nauroy–Gouy. Upon reaching this line, the Australian Corps was to pass through the II Corps and continue the attack. [For this battle the Americans were placed under the command of Australian Gen. John Monash, considered to be one of the best commanders of the war.  However, they were under Monash's command for only a few days and had no time to absorb the systematic and highly orchestrated approach to offensive operations for which he is highly admired. The night before the offensive Monash was skeptical about the Yanks' chances for success.]




The 27th advanced against the Hindenburg Line in column of brigades with the 54th Infantry Brigade leading. The attack was launched at the designated hour, 5:30 a.m. Because of the failure of the British III Corps to secure the designated line of departure and the subsequent failure of the 106th's attack on 27 September, the infantry started its attack one kilometer in the rear of the rolling barrage, which permitted the enemy machine guns in the three main strong points of Guillement Ferme [farm], Quennemont Ferme, and the Knoll to maintain a heavy fire on the attacking forces from the opening of the attack. The mist, low clouds, and smoke from the barrage also interfered with observation and maintenance of direction. Tanks assigned to support the infantry suffered mechanical failure or were blown up in the wire by landmines or shellfire. Only one of the 39 tanks assigned to the attack made the advance to its initial objective. [Besides the usual punishing artillery and machine gun fire, special mortar and grenades teams using both hand-thrown and rifle-fired grenades, were particularly effective at breaking up the American attack.]

The resistance offered by the enemy strong points in Guillemont Ferme, Quennemont Ferme, and on the Knoll seriously impeded the progress of the 27th Division. [The village of Bony on a rise overlooking the battlefield was also a very strong defensive position.] On the 29th the 107th Infantry suffered the largest number of single-day casualties of any regiment in the U.S. Army in any conflict—1,062—of which 349 were listed as K.I.A. 

The Australian units advanced to effect the passage of lines about 11 a.m. and, together with troops of the 27th Division, took Quennemont Ferme and continued until checked in the main enemy position south of Bony. The Knoll was taken in hard fighting and held against counterattacks. Guillemont Ferme was not taken. Troops of the 53rd Infantry Brigade, intended to be used for exploitation, became engaged in the fight. Small parties of the leading waves worked forward to the canal. The latter part of the day was devoted to consolidation of the positions and reorganization of the troops.

Dead Americans of the 107th Infantry at Guillemont Ferme


The Australian 3rd Division prepared to renew the attack on 30 September in the zone of action of the 27th Division, and in the early morning hours of that day assumed command of the front. Elements of the 27th Division remained in action on this day and assisted in the attack against the main line of resistance of the Hindenburg Line.  [The 27th Division began a withdrawal to the area of Peronne the night of 30 September.]

Today, the United States Somme Cemetery, located just west of Bony, sits on ground fought over by the 27th Division during this battle.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

The Advance from Mons 1914: The Experiences of a German Infantry Officer


By Walter Bloem
Helion and Company, 2004, 1930 original issue
Henry G. Gole, Reviewer

August 1914

The human dimension of the Schlieffen Plan comes through most clearly in Walter Bloem's little-known memoir called The Advance From Mons: 1914. Bloem, a teacher in civilian life, provides an eyewitness account of the Schlieffen Plan in action from his perspective as a German infantry company commander at the very tip of one of the bold arrows staff officers draw on maps.

Painstaking plans and technical language are reduced to universally understood human conditions as fatigue becomes exhaustion in a series of combats later called the Battle of the Marne. Several themes emerge in this account of the opening days and weeks of the war, themes repeated in other accounts of both the war of movement that characterized the early stage of the war and the war in the trenches that was the experience of most participants from the winter of 1914 to the autumn of 1918.

Among the themes one sees repeatedly in Bloem and in the other firsthand accounts of the war are these:

• Fatigue, the discovery that war is work

• The affection that used to be called camaraderie—but has recently been christened "bonding"—that grows among men sharing hard and dangerous experiences

• A deep sense of responsibility on the part of leaders that finds its reciprocal in the trust soldiers invested in combat leaders but not in "the staff," that collection of bumblers despised by combat soldiers of all armies, who are always convinced that "the staff" is living well, out of touch with frontline reality, and more dangerous than the enemy

• Evidence the enemy is everywhere but one does not see him

• The shock of combat, usually characterized by brief violence and intense fire that are fickle in their choice of victims. (The duration of fire changes later in the war when artillery bombardment often lasts for hours and even, before a major assault, for days, but fickleness remains a constant.)

Bloem is wounded at the Marne and concludes his book with an account of his feelings as he is transported back to Germany on a hospital train. His thoughts—and this, too, is typical of the war literature—remain with the company rather than focusing on anticipated comfort in the bosom of friends and family at home.

Excerpted from: "The Great War: A Literary Perspective," by Henry G. Gole Downloadable HERE

Monday, October 7, 2019

A Dozen Memorable Quotes from All Quiet on the Western Front


Paul Bäumer Chats with a Dead French Soldier


1.  Preface:  This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped shells, were destroyed by the war.

2.  Opening Line: We are at rest five miles behind the front.

3.  For us lads of eighteen they ought to have been mediators and guides to the world of maturity, the world of work, of duty, of culture, of progress - to the future. We often made fun of them and played jokes on them, but in our hearts we trusted them. The idea of authority, which they represented, was associated in our minds with a greater insight and a more humane wisdom. But the first death we saw shattered this belief. We had to recognize that our generation was more to be trusted than theirs. They surpassed us only in phrases and in cleverness. 

4.  The wisest were just the poor and simple people. They knew the war to be a misfortune, whereas those who were better off, and should have been able to see more clearly what the consequences would be, were beside themselves with joy. Katczinsky said that was a result of their upbringing. It made them stupid. And what Kat said, he had thought about.

5.  The soldier is on friendlier terms than other men with his stomach and intestines. Three-quarters of his vocabulary is derived from these regions, and they give an intimate flavor to expressions of his greatest joy as well as of his deepest indignation.

6.  We have lost all sense of other considerations, because they are artificial. Only the facts are real and important to us. And good boots are hard to come by.

7.  That is Kat. If for one hour in a year something eatable were to be had in some one place only, within that hour, as if moved by a vision, he would put on his cap, go out and walk directly there, as though following a compass, and find it.

8.  I imagined leave would be different from this. Indeed, it was different a year ago. It is I of course that have changed in the interval. There lies a gulf between that time and today. At that time I still knew nothing about the war, we had been only in quiet sectors. But now I see that I have been crushed without knowing it. I find I do not belong here any more, it is a foreign world.

9.  But now, for the first time, I see you are a man like me. I thought of your hand grenades, of your bayonet, of your rifle; now I see your wife and your face and our fellowship. Forgive me, comrade. We always see it too late. Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony — Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy?

10.  Killing each separate louse is a tedious business when a man has hundreds.  The little beasts are hard and the everlasting cracking with one's fingernails very soon becomes wearisome.

11.  We lie under the network of arching shells and live in a suspense of uncertainty. If a shot comes, we can duck, that is all; we neither know nor can determine where it will fall.

12.  Final Entry: He fell in October 1918, on a day that was so quiet and still on the whole front, that the army report confined itself to the single sentence: All quiet on the Western Front. He had fallen forward and lay on the earth as though sleeping. Turning him over one saw that he could not have suffered long; his face had an expression of calm, as though almost glad the end had come.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Leonard Wood and the First World War


General Wood

There are few soldiers in American history who rose as high, or achieved as much, as Major General Leonard Wood. No officer did more for preparing the U.S. Army to fight successfully in the First World War than he. In spite of his accomplished service on the frontier, Cuba, the Philippines, and in the corridors of the War Department, the positions he wanted most: a major field command in World War I, appointment as secretary of war and the presidency of the United States, all eluded him. If success is measured by what someone wants most and was working toward throughout a lifetime, then Wood must be counted—at least partly—as a failure. How did so much achievement and even greater promise end in frustration and rejection?

On 22 April 1910, Leonard Wood was named the fifth chief of staff of the U.S. Army, a position established by the reforms of 1903. So incensed were the line Regulars by the naming of a Medical Corps officer to the top command that afterward the possibility of another such appointment was prohibited by Army regulations. The anxiety throughout the ranks about Wood’s ascent was pervasive. Capt. Johnson Hagood, who would later rise to prominence as chief of supply of the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I, was then a staff officer and awaited the arrival of the newcomer with great trepidation: “Was this the Wood I had heard so much about? Was this the soldier of fortune, the pill roller become swashbuckler, the pretender, the usurper, the Rough Rider who trampled over friends and foes; the medicine man with a cure-all for the Army?”

Wood, Far Left, on the Trail of Geronimo 

Wood soon won over Hagood and many other skeptics. His four-year tenure was one of the most momentous and important in the history of the U.S. Army. During this period, a crucial struggle was waged between the entrenched and tradition-bound bureaus of the War Department— especially the Adjutant General’s office—and an emerging independent and powerful general staff system. Perhaps his most important contribution, however, was his vocal and early support for military preparedness. Having concluded as early as 1902, during attendance at German military maneuvers, that war was inevitable, Wood pressed for increases in the strength of the officer corps and other training changes. His efforts eventually led to the Officers Training Camps of World War I and later programs, like the Reserve Officers Training Corps and Officers Candidate Schools during World War II

After his tenure as chief of staff, Wood resumed his position in command of the Army's Department of the East. There he spoke against the neutralist policies of President Wilson, barely skirting insubordination and incurring the president’s lasting wrath. Wilson later wrote in response to the question of why Wood was never sent to France: "Wherever Gen. Wood goes, there is controversy and conflict of judgment. I have a great deal of experience with Gen. Wood. He is a man of unusual ability, but apparently unable to submit his judgment to those who are superior in command. embarking on a path fraught with professional dangers and one almost never trod by active duty soldiers."

Wood on Right with His Assistant Rough Rider Commander,
Theodore Roosevelt

After the declaration of war on 6 April, the government’s first major decision was selection of a supreme commander to lead U.S. forces. The choice quickly came down to Wood and John J. Pershing, fresh from his assignment on the Mexican border. Wood’s political transgressions, abrasive style, and many enemies now caught up with him. Pershing was selected. Three factors were cited:

■ Wood’s health. The effects from his head injury had grown noticeably worse.

■ Pershing’s more current and applicable field experience. Wood’s last combat command had been his controversial assignment in the Philippines (1906–1908).

■ Wood’s reputation as a political general, whose loyalty to any superior authority was questionable.

Thus, the most senior major general in the Army was ordered to train the 89th Division at Camp Funston, KS, clearly a minor assignment and one designed to humiliate him. In December 1917, Wood visited Europe as part of a tour arranged for senior American officers to observe Allied operations and be observed by Pershing, who was evaluating generals for top overseas commands. Even in this situation, Wood found it impossible to remain silent and made several controversial remarks about American leadership and troop readiness that quickly attracted press attention. It was the final straw; Pershing let it be known—and not discreetly—that Wood was not welcome back in France

He remained undeterred and pressed his supporters to help secure him a combat command. A direct appeal to Secretary of War Newton Baker was rebuffed and Wood even arranged an audience with President Wilson to press his case, an astounding request given Wilson’s well-known antipathy. Wood’s humiliation was compounded when, on the eve of the departure of the 89th Division for France, he was relieved and ordered to train another unit, the 10th Division, at Camp Funston. The closest Wood got to combat was the inspection tour, during which a trench mortar exploded at the breech, slightly wounding him and killing several officers who stood nearby. He returned to America and performed his duty, and for his “especially meritorious and conspicuous service” during the Great War was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal.  In 1920 he waged a campaign for the Republican nomination for the presidency, but he was out-maneuvered and lost out at the convention to Warren Harding.

With Emilio Aguinaldo and His Wife, 4 July 1924 

Wood’s final assignment was as governor-general of the Philippines (1921–1927). His rule was widely unpopular and he died in August 1927 in Boston of a tumor which developed out of a freak head injury he had suffered in Cuba a quarter-century earlier.

Excerpted from "The Frustrations of Leonard Wood," by Steven L. Ossad, Army, September 2003

Saturday, October 5, 2019

The Death of UB-116


UB-116


On 25 October 1918 submarine UB-116 left Heligoland under the command of Oberleutnant zur See Joachim Emsmann. As part of the German Navy's last-ditch naval operation of the war, Emsmann’s task was to enter the British Naval Base at Scapa Flow, Scotland, off the north coast of Scotland, and attack larger ships, so as to weaken the British fleet prior to the attack by the German High Seas Fleet.

On 28 October Emsmann’s submarine entered Hoxa Sound, Scapa Flow. The British had laid a minefield in Hoxa Sound. The minefield had underwater microphones called hydrophones, allowing shore-based operators to pick up the sound of an approaching submarine. UB-116 was picked up by hydrophone at 2121. At 23:32 an electrical cable laid in loops on the seabed sent a signal to a device called a galvanometer, indicating the UB-116 was in the minefield. The operator flipped a switch and a row of mines exploded. The next morning the surface was covered with oil and air bubbles were rising steadily. Patrol boats dropped depth charges that brought debris to the surface, including a jacket. British divers visited the wreck on 29 October and on 4 November they returned and recovered UB-116’s logbook.

Hans Joachim Emsmann and all of his crew were killed. Due to mutinies on board the ships of the High Seas Fleet, the German surface ships were unable to put to sea.

Text written by Mr. Philip Lecane, taken from his book Torpedoed!

Source: U-boat.net

Friday, October 4, 2019

That Fraud "Achi Baba"


The largest effort of the opening amphibious assault at Gallipoli was at Cape Helles, the tip of the Gallipoli Peninsula. In this passage British geologist Peter Doyle explains why the whole effort was ill considered. Your editor has stood on the summit of Achi Baba and can confirm Professor Doyle's description.

Click on Map to Enlarge

1. Helles Landing Beaches; 2. Krithia Village; 3. Achi Baba;
4. Fort at Kilid Bahr
(Map depicts naval attack of 18 March, not landings or land campaign)

After 25 April, the "Battle of the Beaches," static trench positions similar to those of the Western Front developed. Soon after the landing at Cape Helles, the British overcame, with terrible losses, the Turkish positions located on the surrounding cliffs. Their final objective of this first phase was the summit of Achi Baba, the high point of the Kilid Bahr plateau at 218 m, which should have commanded the village of Kilid Bahr itself, one of the main fortresses of the Dardanelles.

View from Achi Baba (3) to Landing Beaches 6 Miles South

In fact, the view from Achi Baba is disappointing, with Commodore Roger Keyes, chief of staff to the admirals commanding the British Fleet, later commenting that it was "an unpleasant shock to us to find that the forts we had hoped to destroy, with the assistance of observation from Alcitepe [Achi Baba] were not even visible from that gigantic fraud" (Keyes, reported in Ekins 2001, p.11). 

Fort at Kilid Bahr (4), 7 Miles North of Achi Baba (3)

Although it became an obsession of the Allied General Staff, Achi Baba was never captured.  Instead, a series of bloody set piece, frontal-assault battles for the village of Krithia [farther west] and Achi Baba beyond ensued through the summer months, aided by inadequate land based artillery and often ineffective naval gunfire over the supposedly inviting open glacis provided by the terrain at Helles. Stalemate was achieved some 50 m in front of Krithia and remained there until the final Allied withdrawal from the peninsula in January 1916.

From: "Six VC’s Before Breakfast: Terrain and the Gallipoli Landings," 25 April 1915, by Peter Doyle

Thursday, October 3, 2019

How the German Army Opposed the Meuse-Argonne Offensive



Germans Used Gas Extensively to Defend Against the Americans

By Jeffrey LaMonica

Four years of attrition had worn down the Imperial German Army by fall 1918. Only 12 German divisions on the Western Front were at full strength in November 1918. German units facing First Army during the final phase of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive found themselves outnumbered three-to-one and incapable of counteroffensive action. Chief of the Imperial German General Staff, Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg, and German Army Deputy Chief of Staff, General Ludendorff, had abandoned the notion of winning the war and planned for a piecemeal fighting retreat in August 1918. After General Pershing's First Army launched its massive Meuse-Argonne Offensive on 26 September 1918, General Ludendorff issued an order restricting his armies to defensive maneuvers and initiating a rearguard action toward the Franco-German border on 30 September.

German Support Bunker in Argonne Sector

Despite its state of desperation, the Imperial German Army's defensive strategy was sound and conducted with enough efficiency and vigor to challenge First Army during its last push of the war. German division commanders shortened their lines, defended key railroad junctions, such as Sedan, and conducted a determined fighting retreat toward Germany. As General Ludendorff recalled after the war: “The defensive battle on the Meuse had followed a favorable course, in spite of the absolutely overwhelming superiority of the enemy. The enemy gained ground, but slowly.”


The Imperial German Army perfected a defense-in-depth technique by 1917. This tactic called for defenders to allow attackers to capture lightly manned forward positions so they could decimate them with dense machine-gun and artillery fire from areas farther in the rear. General Hunter Liggett's army faced this type of defense-in-depth along the Meuse River in November 1918.

General Marwitz
The Imperial German Army also enjoyed a geographic advantage along the Meuse River. The German forces opposing First Army occupied a favorable defensive position on the elevated forest terrain overlooking the river. Ludendorff recollected, “General Headquarters had to reckon with the possibility of withdrawing the front back to the Meuse line at the beginning of November in order to still further shorten it.”

After the war, First Army Commander, General Hunter Liggett commended General Georg von der Marwitz, the commander of the German Fifth Army, for orchestrating an effective fighting retreat without the benefit of motor transport and having only 12 combat-ready divisions under his command. Marwitz issued a general order to his army on 1 November instructing all commanders to utilize the cover of night to retreat from towns and villages, destroy all bridges across the Meuse, and use artillery to slow the pursuing Americans.

A Selection From: American Tactical Advancement in World War I, by Jeffrey LaMonica, McFarland & Company, 2017 

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

When Rumania Was Staggered


After remaining neutral for two years, Rumania—miscalculating the apparent success of Russia's Brusilov Offensive—chose to enter the war on the side of the Entente on 27 August 1916. The government's prime motive, like Italy's in 1915, was to obtain more territory. King Ferdinand and Premier Ion Bratianu, however, had grossly overestimated the fighting power of their army and the weakness of the Central Powers.


Rumanian Infantry Form a Skirmish Line

Following an initial advance across the Transylvanian Alps into Hungary, Rumania was invaded from two directions. From Bulgaria in the south, a combined force of Germans, Turks, and Bulgarians under the command of Field Marshal August von Mackensen attacked between the Danube and the Black Sea. Rumania moved troops from the advancing forces in Transylvania to oppose the counter-invasion which threatened all of their Black Sea ports as well as Bucharest, the capital. Then in late September, General Falkenhayn, recently demoted as chief of staff, arrived to take command of the German Ninth Army in Transylvania to the north. He quickly attacked, capturing Hermanstadt and driving two Rumanian divisions back into the mountains.

In quick order the two German commanders and a third Austro-Hungarian force relentlessly crushed the Rumanian opposition. By 5 December Bucharest had fallen, Rumania's oil fields had been set ablaze, and three-fourths of Rumania was occupied. The arrival of Russian forces staved off total disaster. A defensible line was formed on the Sereth River in the northeast, allowing Rumania to retain a major portion of Moldavia.

Germany Cavalry Pursuing Rumanian Troops

There was little action in the next year, but in December 1917, the exhausted Rumanian government had to ask the Central Powers for terms. They had lost a war and suffered over 400,000 casualties for their territorial ambitions. Things would change dramatically for Rumania at the Paris Peace Conference, where their delegation cleverly negotiated an outcome that saw them gain significant additional territory, as well as shipments of arms and military support. They not only recovered territory that was lost to Bulgaria but they also gained additional territory by acquiring Transylvania.