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

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

World War One's Greatest Aircraft Design Fail


Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.9

This is one man's opinion, of course, but this is the plane I would least wish to pull observer duty in.  Designed as a replacement for the Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2c reconnaissance aircraft, which was considered a "sitting duck," its observer position seems to provide a nice view, but:

A.  He's inches away from getting sliced up by the propeller at any time. (By the way, is this a pusher or a tractor design or both?)

B.  If there's a crash landing he seems be in serious jeopardy from both the propeller and the engine sitting just behind the propeller.

C.  Just how does he communicate with the pilot?

D.  Speaking of the pilot, he seems to be sitting more to the rear than normally, putting him farther out of touch with the observer.

Anyway, one of the B.E.9s was deployed to the Western Front where three RFC squadrons gave it a test ride and said "No, thanks".

Please list your nominees for biggest design fail in the comments section below and I'll see what I can find out about them. Being ugly is not sufficient basis for a  nomination, however.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

The Desert Column


by Ion L. Idriess
Angus & Robertson Limited, 1937
Michael Kihntopf, Reviewer

Australian Troopers During the Battle of Romani


Ion Idriess (1889–1979) was one of Australia's most prolific writers, having produced over 50 books in the space of 43 years. Each of the books had something to do with aspects of his colorful life in which he worked at almost anything that got him money, including stints as a dingo shooter, rabbit poisoner, gold prospector, and opal miner. The Desert Column is based on his diary entries while in service with the 5th Light Horse, Australian Imperial Force. The book was first published in 1932 and received many more printings after that. My copy was the ninth edition.

Idriess kept small notebooks which he filled with impressions of the day and recounts of actions that he was involved in beginning with his landing on the Gallipoli peninsula. He faithfully kept those notebooks, often chucking other parts of his kit to make room for their ever-growing volume. His sole purpose was the "thought that if he survived shot and shell and sickness, he would like, when he came to an old man, to be able to read exactly what his feelings were when things were happening."

From the first chapter, I was launched into his world as a common trooper. There are no descriptions of tactics or "Heads'" (Aussie term for the generals) strategies for the peninsula. He talks about sniping, trench raids, and both Turkish and Allied artillery barrages. The most gloriously detailed accounts are of receiving rations. I surmised that the deprivation he endured in working around Australia and living with the Aborigines on Cape York Peninsula made him appreciate a "splendid tea" of tinned beef mixed with onions and fried in bacon fat, biscuits and cheese, biscuits and jam, and tea. Service on the Gallipoli peninsula was cut short when he was nicked in the knee by a shrapnel ball. The wound turned septic and he was evacuated to Alexandria to recover.

Recovery was short, but by the time he was ready, his regiment had been evacuated from the peninsula and moved to the Sinai. There he joined the Desert Column, consisting of Australian and New Zealand units in the march on Jerusalem. Descriptions of sand, oases, the heat, the Bedouin people, and leave in Cairo are excellent. Idriess was involved in the first battle for Gaza. Once again, it is told from the trooper's viewpoint. There aren't any squadrons moving here or there. There are individual fire fights, bayonet charges, and flanking runs on horses.

The one criticism for the Heads relates to this. Idriess and his battalion had secured the city, but the order came to withdraw back to their starting positions, which allowed the Turks to reoccupy Gaza. What followed was a stagnant slug-fest with patrols, observations, and what he termed "Cossack raids." He defines these raids as eight to 12 men who rode close to the Turkish lines. If the enemy chased them, they unloaded their magazines at them, and hightailed it back to their positions for support. He termed it as exciting as when the Turks were caught in planning a raid. That definition is where I had my first and only disappointment.

Idriess seems to become a caricature of an Australian trooper at about mid-book. He begins many descriptions of getting great fun from potting at the Turks whenever he can and going on daring raids voluntarily in which he is almost captured but saved by excellent horsemanship or the appearance of a superior force. But the hardest comments to take were he and his mates jumping on their "neddies" laughing and calling to one another as they chased down Turks at breakneck speeds or were running from them while dodging their pursuit fire. It wasn't just one incident but several. I was reminded of the characters in a motion picture that would come later (1940s) called Forty Thousand Horsemen; a bonus picture to see with a lot of close-up camera work of horses charging and so on. Thank goodness the author's dramatization did not distract me from the overall writing of The Desert Column. It was just irritating at times.

Michael Kihntopf

Monday, February 24, 2020

Blind Spots in the German Army's Interwar Modernization


German Officers at Maneuvers, 1925
General Hans von Seeckt (Center) Was in Charge of Restoring the German Army


From: "The German Army after the Great War" by Geoffrey P. Megargee in Victory or Defeat: Armies in the Aftermath of Conflict

Much has been made of the genius of men such as Heinz Guderian (especially by men such as Heinz Guderian) in forcing a stodgy,conservative military leadership to accept the new gospel of mobile warfare. . . Amidst all this praise of German doctrinal brilliance, however, one should remember that the First World War offered some operational lessons that escaped the Germans completely. rue, they did gradually develop a way to return operational maneuver to the battlefield, but there is more to the operational level of war than maneuver. Perhaps most important, the Germans failed to develop any deep understanding of the role of logistics, either in terms of their own capabilities or as a consideration in striking at the enemy. They never could escape a mind-set that put the scheme of maneuver before all else. They only thought about logistics—or "supply," the term they actually used, and a much more limited idea—after they developed the maneuver plan. 

And so, for example,they failed to learn any lessons from their own offensives of spring 1918, in which they advanced into positions that were logistically untenable, while simultaneously missing the operational and strategic importance of the enemy’s rail hubs, whose loss or interdiction might have forced the British to abandon their position in northern France and perhaps even driven the Allies to the negotiating table.

One searches in vain, however, in the postwar studies, in F.u.G., or in any of the following doctrinal manuals, for any discussion of logistics on this level. Herein lay the seeds for some of Germany’s greatest failures in the next war, when the capabilities of the logistical system did not always match the speed and scope of German advances.


The strategic sphere was more problematic still. In fact, one can argue that the Germans simply did not understand strategy; their conduct of the Great War, and the lessons they drew from it, certainly point to that conclusion. The "stab-in-the-back" myth, the concept of "total war," and the focus on operational and tactical issues—all those explanations miss the strategic blunders that really lost the Great War for Germany. For example, the Reichswehr’s leaders never questioned the wisdom of invading Belgium in 1914. In their minds, there were sound operational reasons for doing so; the fact that the invasion brought Britain into the war was unimportant to them, as it had been to the leaders of 1914. Likewise, the decision to launch unrestricted submarine warfare in1917 drew no significant attention, even though it led to war with the United States. The Germans’ fundamental problem was that they equated strategy with what one might call "grand operations." That is, when they wrote or spoke about strategy, their focus lay entirely on winning battles and campaigns. they figured that military solutions were the only solutions, and if they won enough battles, the war would take care of itself. They failed to understand how to balance political ends with economic and military means on the strategic level, and thus did not perceive that, no matter how superior their tactics and operational doctrine might be, there were some fights they just could not win, and thus should not start. As Blomberg once put it, "The more enemies, the more honour! Here again, this was a weakness that would come back to haunt the Germans in their next fight.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

The Voyage of the Deutschland and American Treason


Deutschland in Chesapeake Bay

In 1914, on the eve of World War I, 94,000 Germans lived in Baltimore, and most maintained close cultural ties to their homeland. After hostilities broke out England's massive navy blockaded the Central Powers, including Germany, and put a stranglehold on its economy.

Two years later, in the summer of 1916, the German-built U-boat Deutschland circumvented the blockade and embarked on a "merchant submarine" mission to deliver highly sought-after vibrant-hued dyes to Baltimore clothing manufacturers. With its low surface profile and the ability to submerge, the Deutschland was able evade Allied warships and cross the Atlantic.  To the Americans, the fact that Deutschland possessed no guns was the single fact used to determine her status as a trade vessel. She brought German goods to America and carried home nickel and rubber, both critical to the German war effort. But England and France were not pleased with the Deutschland's arrival at Baltimore and considered the boat a warship by virtue of its construction alone. 

Deutschland's Crew in Baltimore

When America entered WWI in 1917, unrestricted submarine warfare was declared and Germany's unarmed merchant submarine program abruptly ended.  Deutschland became attack submarine U-155, now outfitted with deck cannon and torpedo tubes. Between May 1917 and October 1918 Deutschland/U-155 sank over 30 ships, including several American vessels.

When the Deutschland visited Baltimore in August 1916, life was still relatively normal for the city's German community.  In fact, two Baltimore businessmen, father and son, Henry and Paul Hilken of A. Schumacher and Company, who were also agents for the North German Lloyd Steamship Line,  sold  tons of the chemicals for an unheard-of $6 million, earning themselves a massive profit. The submarine received a heroes' welcome, and its captain, Paul Lebrecht König, was treated like a celebrity. In fact, Paul Hilken escorted Captain König to some of the city's best restaurants, such as at the Hotel Belvedere and the Germania Club, where he also met Baltimore mayor James Preston.

Captain König and Paul Hilken

However, "This was not only a German trade mission, it was a German propaganda mission, that put on show Germany's peaceful trading mission with America, the key world power that continued to remain neutral," according to Alexandra Deutsch of the Maryland Historical Society. Further, the Deutschland episode connects with another effort that Germany was making in pre-intervention America.

Not only was Paul Hilken a prominent businessman; some accounts state that he was also likely a spy. Hilken had visited Germany on a business trip earlier in 1916, and it appeared that while there he was recruited by the German secret services to facilitate German sabotage cells in Baltimore, New York, and New Orleans.  He served as paymaster for Germany's spies and saboteurs on the East Coast.  These units had specialized on bombing loaded cargo ships with small incendiary devices called "cigars." One such attack was successfully carried out at the Black Tom pier in Jersey City, New Jersey, on 30 July 2016, killing five people and massive destruction. Reverberations could be felt as far away as Perryville, Maryland. It is thought that Hilken played an instrumental part in this attack. His headquarters in Baltimore was Hansa Haus, site of a present day FedEx-Kinko's store at the corner of Charles and Redwood Streets.

Hansa Haus, Baltimore, Spying Headquarters

After the explosion, Paul Hilken fled to Connecticut and was never prosecuted due to his 1928 confession and cooperation with the Federal Government in their 18-year pursuit of a claim against Germany for the Black Tom sabotage. The verdict, which found the German government liable for the Black Tom explosion, came in September 1939 as Hitler was rolling through Poland. Germany made the last payment of the $50 million claim in 1976. Henry Hilken had somehow avoided being connected to his son's more nefarious activities and later served as German Consul in Baltimore.

Sources:  The Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore Sun

Saturday, February 22, 2020

The Black Watch Museum at Perth


A Sentry of the Black Watch (Royal Highlanders), 1892

The Black Watch was one of the most distinguished of Scotland's infantry formations, dating its lineage back to 1725 when six "watch" companies were authorized to patrol the Highlands. On 28 March 2006 the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) was merged with other Scottish Infantry battalions to form the Royal Regiment of Scotland. The Black Watch members formed the 3rd Battalion of the new regiment. Despite the consolidation, a great effort has been made to ensure that the history of the Black Watch will not be forgotten.

 Balhousie Castle


WWI Display



WWI Display


The Regimental Trustees of the Black Watch bought Balhousie Castle outside of Perth, Scotland, in January 2009, and it became their headquarters and museum of the regiment. The museum displays the history of the regiment from 1739 to the present. The Black Watch Heritage Appeal was launched in September 2009, allowing the regiment to raise in excess of £3.2 million to develop Balhousie Castle to provide a permanent home for the museum and archive of the Black Watch. 

The 51st Highland Division Arrives at the Somme


Rum Ration on the Western Front

The new museum was opened in 2013. Shown here are some photos of the castle and the World War I section of the museum, as well as some of the photos in the archives of the Black Watch in action.

The Black Watch on the March in Mesopotamia


Pipers and Drummers of the Black Watch Entertaining the Men




Friday, February 21, 2020

Our February 2019 St. Mihiel Trip-Wire



Don't Miss Our February 2019 St. Mihiel Trip-Wire


Main Focus:  The Armenian Genocide


  • Prelude to Mass Murder
  • Organizers of the Crime
  • Rationales for Genocide: Betrayal and Revolt


Public Execution of Armenians


  • Deportation Routes and Camps
  • Report from a German Observer
  • On the Scene: U.S. Ambassador Henry Morgenthau
  • A Conversation with Turkish Police Capt. Shukri


Other Topics:


  • The Polish-Soviet War Heats Up
  • WWI Film Classic: The Promise
  • Plus all our regular updates and features

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Recommended: The Myths of Verdun, by Professor Paul Jankowski


This lecture was delivered at the National World War I Museum and Memorial's Symposium–1916.  Professor Paul Jankowski of Brandeis University had recently written a new work on the Battle of Verdun.  I did not attend the seminar but did have the pleasure of viewing his talk recently. I must say, he takes a fresh look at the battle, and I learned much from his presentation.


Professor Jankowski had some very interesting visuals he used to support his main points. Here's one I've never run across before.


Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Who Was General John Hines?


By Editor/Publisher Mike Hanlon

John Leonard Hines was born in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, on 21 May 1868. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1891, commissioned a second lieutenant, and assigned to the 2nd Infantry. Hines performed troop and staff duties on the frontier in Nebraska and Montana from 1891 to 1898.   

After serving as acting quartermaster of the 2nd Infantry in the Cuba expedition and participating in the famous action at San Juan Hill, he filled a number of quartermaster positions in the U.S., Cuba, and the Philippines and served as a military representative in Nagasaki, Japan, where in 1908 he crossed paths with his future mentor and champion, John J. Pershing. In 1914 he was assigned under Pershing, then commander of the 8th Infantry Brigade at the Presidio of San Francisco. Pershing’s brigade was subsequently deployed to the Mexican border and Hines served as the adjutant of the Punitive Expedition into Mexico (1916–1917).   

Pershing and His Staff on the Punitive Expedition
Hines Is Third from Right

The United States entered World War I while Hines was serving at Governors Island, New York, and Pershing quickly invited him to join his initial entourage to travel to France and plan the expeditionary force. They sailed on SS Baltic in June 1917. His first assignment was as assistant quartermaster of the AEF, but when Pershing asked what he wanted to do, Hines requested a combat command. His rise from that point was nothing less than meteoric. Recently promoted to lieutenant colonel, by October he was colonel commanding the 16th Infantry. 

The following April he was promoted to brigadier, commanding the 1st Brigade, 1st Division, at Cantigny and Soissons. Impressed with his work, Pershing then gave him another star and command of the 4th Division during the St. Mihiel Offensive and the opening stage of the Meuse-Argonne operation. Hines’s greatest moment, however, was yet to come.

With his expeditionary force expanding explosively, Pershing delegated command of the U.S. First Army to Hunter Liggett and named Hines commander of its III Corps. Liggett needed to reorganize the First Army—which was bogged down in the heights around Romagne and Cunel—on the fly. 

Having served with Hines in the 1st Division, Liggett knew of his quality and was confident enough in his abilities to entrust Hines with a critical role in the last stage of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.  In early November 1918, III Corps forced the River Meuse at Dun-sur-Meuse and flooded across. This reoriented the main axis of attack of the entire AEF, creating an immediate threat into the Rhineland, thus setting up the further campaign to force Germany from the war. Had the war continued, Hines surely would have played a large role in the anticipated offensives—but the Armistice came.

After the War, Hines (Rt) Served As Deputy Chief of Staff Under
Pershing Before Succeeding Him

John Hines is most remembered today as the fastest rising officer of the American Expeditionary Force. He was promoted from major to lieutenant colonel in May 1917, then to colonel, brigadier general, and, in August 1918, to major general—four grades in 16 months, assuming successively larger commands—from regiment to brigade, division, and, finally, corps. Hines served the U.S. Army with distinction for more than 40 years in a full range of line, staff, and combat positions, and he inevitably advanced to the highest position in the Army when he succeeded General Pershing as chief of staff in 1924. He died on 13 October 1968, at the age of 100. 

In 2000, your editor Michael Hanlon was asked to be a historical consultant for the U.S. Postal Service on a series of commemorative stamps honoring Distinguished American Soldiers. Alvin York and John Hines (stamp shown above) were the World War I selections. This article is taken from some of the material he developed for that project.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Latin America and the First World War


by Stefan Rinke
Cambridge University Press, 2017
Prof. John Bawden (University of Montevallo), Reviewer

Brazilian President Venceslau Brás Declares War on the Central Powers

Latin America and the First World War, originally published in German as Im Sog der Katastro- phe (In the Wake of the Disaster), takes issue with the tendency to emphasize the economic crisis of the 1930s as the key moment when the direction of Latin American history changed. The First World War, Stefan Rinke contends, was a critical turning point that shifted the region’s outlook and global awareness.

Drawing from a wide array of source material, Rinke examines the ways Europe’s cultural and economic power drew Latin America into the conflict. The war elicited immediate interest and passion from large immigrant communities across the Southern Cone, where conscripts and volunteers of European descent mustered in South American ports to return home for military service. Elites generally sympathized with the Allies because they regarded France as a beacon of world civilization, but Germanophiles existed in every country, and the far-reaching economic power of British and American capital had important political ramifications.

During the war years (1914–18), Britain’s naval blockade slowed or halted vital imports to the region and everywhere prices fluctuated. Decreased demand for commodities such as coffee, tobacco, and sugar resulted in unemployment, and the cost of living skyrocketed in major cities. Thus, trade disruptions affected millions of illiterate Latin Americans and forced governments to confront the consequences of their dependence on Europe. The actions of belligerent nations also raised sovereignty issues. Britain and France blacklisted German-owned companies in Latin America and pressured governments to seize enemy property. Not long after the resumption of unrestricted sub- marine warfare in early 1917, German U-boats torpedoed merchant ships from Brazil and Argentina, which touched off mass protest and anti-German riots in both countries.

The book highlights regional dynamics. Brazil eventually declared war on the German Reich, but neighboring Chile and Argentina did not. Still smarting from the loss of Panama in 1903 due to American military intervention, Colombia’s leaders stayed neutral and looked with skepticism on calls for pan-American solidarity. U.S. clients (Cuba, Panama, Guatemala) acted in concert with Washington’s dictates, and revolutionary Mexico cultivated ties with Berlin as a counterweight to U.S. hegemony. In sum, national governments acted cautiously and pursued their own interests. Meanwhile, imperial Germany wanted to destabilize the Allies’ colonial empires through support for dissidents and revolutionaries in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. That policy informed the Zimmerman Telegram (1917) and German efforts to incite revolt against British and American interests in the Caribbean Basin.

A central argument of Latin America and the First World War is that the conflict’s impact “went far beyond the exclusive spheres of the diplomats or the elites involved in the propaganda war” (p. 195). Urban dwellers followed events thanks to the burgeoning newspaper industry, and trade disruptions affected millions of workers in the export sector. Thus, “the conflict had an astonishingly wide social impact in many parts of Latin America.” In the realm of ideas, the war’s murderous brutality shattered Europe’s claim to be a universal model of progress and civilization; at the same time, a new generation of students, writers, and intellectuals questioned Western dominance of the international order. The Versailles Treaty and League of Nations, for instance, elicited feelings of disillusionment because the victors espoused a high-minded rhetoric about the equality of nations, but France and Britain were not about to give up their colonial empires. Similarly, the United States continued to occupy nations such as Nicaragua, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. Everywhere the Bolshevik Revolution radicalized the international atmosphere. Here, the book links the war and its aftermath to Latin America’s anti-imperialism movements during the 1920s and convincingly argues that wartime shortages and price dislocations set the stage for the politics of economic nationalism.

Latin America and the First World War is a valuable contribution to the historiography. Rinke consulted 13 national archives as well as an array of newspapers and magazines to achieve a remarkable coverage of print sources and diplomatic exchanges. That bird’s-eye view of the region yields various comparative insights, although it should be noted that the Italian and Ottoman Empires do not receive attention with respect to their wartime policies or, more important, how sizable Italian and Arab communities in South America reacted to events overseas. The book’s 23 illustrations, mostly from South American magazines, illuminate the war’s impact on educated opinion and support the author’s assertion that “continental consciousness” developed among writers and intellectuals. That said, the degree to which the First World War transformed the mindset of ordinary Latin Americans is much more of an open question, just as the war transformed some countries and regions much more than others. Nonetheless, Rinke has introduced a worthy set of questions in his ambitious, deeply researched international history.

By permission of the author. Originally presented on H-War, 6 February 2020

Monday, February 17, 2020

German Tactical Bombing on the Western Front (Late War)

 A German Friedrichshafen GIII Bomber

German tactical bombing on the Western Front was conducted only at night after early 1917. They used their A.E.G., Friedrichshafen, Gotha, and Giant bombers to attack rail targets, ammo dumps, cities, armies’ headquarters, and supply depots. In addition to the more well known raids on Paris, the Germans attacked the port of Dunkirk night after night. (These sustained attacks were unique in the Great War and have never been adequately researched by historians.)  

Of particular note is the German attack on the British ammo dump at Audruicq, France the night of 20/21 July 1916. It was raided by only four light bombers which dropped a total bomb load of only 752 kilograms. The devastation in the ammo dump reached the equivalent of $80 million in 2001 US$, probably the most destructive raid in the First World War. It led to a formal inquiry and a redesign of British ammo dumps to avoid such destruction in the future.

Damage at the Site of the Audruicq Raid

Beyond these circumstances, however, German tactical bombing on the Western Front could be characterized more as a serious nuisance than a serious threat. It did force the Allied armies to move at night and curtailed the use of lights outdoors for many miles from the front itself, but the one raid on Audruicq was the only time the bombers even came close to affecting overall events on the Western Front. Part of the reason for this, of course, was that there never were that many bombers—they totaled only from 150 to 200 throughout 1918. 

Thanks to aero-historian Steve Suddaby for this material

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Who Paid for the War?


Some French Soldiers with German Prisoners


By T. Hunt Cooley
From: "The Morning of November 11, 1918"

As Paul Fussell made clear in his masterpiece The Great War and Modern Memory, the multi-layered ironies of the conflict created the war's most lasting legacies. And none of the ironies was quite as striking as the fact that those groups of politicians, bureaucrats, generals, and bankers on all sides who created the war and directed it, had had a mortality rate of zero, more or less, at least until the Spanish Flu emerged late in the war to kill with a little less social and demographic selectivity.

It is fitting to end this short contemplation of 11 November 1918 with a song that emerged from the soldiers who fought the war, performed in a recent recording by a modern musical organization that thrives on ironies, both present and past, the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. The performance is a spare and thoughtful rendition of a British soldier's ditty from the war, "Hanging on the Old Barbed Wire," a reference to that little-celebrated fate of Great War fighters who made it to the killing zone of the enemy's barbed wire in no-man's-land, only to be killed by the interlocking machine gun fire which everyone knew would be zeroed in on that simple but effective obstacle.

If you want to find the General
I know where he is.
He's pinning another medal on his chest.
I saw him, I saw him,
Pinning another medal on his chest

If you want to find the Colonel
I know where he is.
He's sitting in comfort stuffing his bloody gut.
I saw him, I saw him,
Sitting in comfort stuffing his bloody gut.

If you want to find the Sergeant
I know where he is.
He's drinking all the company rum.
I saw him, I saw him,
Drinking all the company rum.

If you want to find the private
I know where he is.
He's hanging on the old barbed wire.
I saw him, I saw him,
Hanging on the old barbed wire,
Hanging on the old barbed wire.

Like many soldiers' perceptions, this simplistic view did not tell the whole truth (in most armies, lieutenants died at a higher rate than privates since they led the attacks over the top for example), and it did not extend to the political and economic structures which created the war to begin with. The German sailors in Kiel, who had by early November already started the German Revolution of 1918 by carrying out a mutiny at the Kiel naval base, understood only peace. And they called for it in the shorthand expression: "We want Erzberger!" (Matthias Erzberger would pay dearly for his courageous call for peace negotiations and his grim duty in carrying out the first step when he was assassinated by an ultra-nationalist terrorist group in 1921.)

Yet there was a kernel of truth in the cynical but simplistic perceptions of many Great War soldiers. The personal bravery and the sacrifices on all sides belonged chiefly to the soldiers. The postwar costs would be paid by societies which had had little to do with bringing about the massacres. The victory was in the hands of gentlemen in ornate rooms in the financial and political capitals of the "great powers," the representatives of the modern state, an entity which collectively perceived the results of the war as its own fulfillment.


Saturday, February 15, 2020

The Boston Navy Yard at War


Boston Navy Yard on the Eve of War

by David Hannigan, Park Guide

At the turn of the 20th century, the Boston Navy Yard (now known as Charlestown Navy Yard) entered its second century of service by embarking on its first major expansion since the Civil War. This growth was in line with the goals of President Theodore Roosevelt’s administration, which wanted the United States Navy to expand and modernize, heralding the emergence of America as a world power. In Boston several new buildings and a second dry dock were built to meet the demands of the growing fleet that it served.

Shortly after the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, President Woodrow Wilson declared that the United States would remain neutral. It would become the navy’s job to protect the nation’s neutrality at sea and at home by stationing destroyers at Boston Navy Yard.

In the aftermath of the sinking of the RMS Lusitania in May 1915, President Wilson sided with the growing number of advocates of military preparedness who sought to protect America’s interests at home and abroad. As part of the preparedness movement, Wilson called upon Congress to authorize the construction of over 150 warships. With the passage of the Naval Act of 1916, the Boston Navy Yard prepared for an increase in the number of ships built, outfitted, and repaired at the facility.

Throughout the war years, many of the yard’s older buildings were renovated or replaced, while several new buildings were erected, including a massive general storehouse. An inclined shipway, where vessels could be built and launched, was constructed and towering hammerhead cranes were erected after the Navy Department selected the Boston Navy Yard for the construction of the first ship specifically built to carry supplies and provisions for overseas fleet replenishment. For the repair of smaller vessels, a marine railway was constructed between the yard’s two dry docks.

As preparations intensified, the number of workers at the yard increased dramatically, growing from approximately 2,500 to 4,400 skilled and unskilled laborers by 1917. This workforce would come to include a number of women who filled a variety of roles from clerical workers to manufacturing assistants in the yard’s rope walk, which had greatly increased its production of cordage for the navy.

Three Destroyers at Pier 9

By January 1917, the land war in Europe had reached a stalemate, prompting Germany to resume its campaign of unrestricted submarine warfare in an attempt to cut off Britain’s supply lines and starve the country into submission before America joined the war. After the sinking of several American vessels with loss of life, the United States declared war on Germany on April 6 and rapidly began to mobilize its forces.

Immediately following the declaration of war, the United States Navy ordered Destroyer Division 8 to assemble at the Boston Navy Yard and prepare for deployment to European waters. Six destroyers departed Boston on 24 April 1917 and arrived at the British naval base at Queenstown (Cobh), Ireland on 4 May. A second group of destroyers left Boston on 7 May to join in escort duties and patrol for German U-boats. Thereafter, the port of Boston and its navy yard would become one of the principal points of departure for troops, arms, and supplies to Britain and France.

Supply Ship USS Bridge Launching

Though the Boston Navy Yard would build a number of support ships during the war, the Navy specifically assigned the yard the task of repairing warships and support vessels. Equally important, the yard oversaw the outfitting and commissioning of a steady stream of warships built by private shipbuilding concerns. These would include destroyers and submarines constructed at Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation’s Fore River Shipyard and its Victory Destroyer Plant, both located in Quincy, Massachusetts.

In addition to readying and repairing warships, workers at the Boston Navy Yard also outfitted ships of the American Merchant Marine with armament provided by the federal government. Boston also converted, fitted out, and commissioned former cargo carrying merchantmen and passenger vessels that had been purchased or leased by the Navy. The smaller and swifter vessels were converted for use in anti-submarine warfare and coastal patrol, while larger vessels were converted for use in transporting troops and carrying cargo. Perhaps the most complicated conversion work at the yard involved five German passenger ships that had been seized in American ports by the United States government after the declaration of war. Prior to the vessel’s seizure, their crews had sabotaged the ship’s’ engines, necessitating extensive repairs before these vessels could be transformed into transports to carry troops and supplies from the United States to France.

Source: Boston National Historical Park, National Park Service



Friday, February 14, 2020

The Flies of the Somme


Body of a Dead German Soldier Covered by Flies

From Civilization by Georges Duhamel

My task as stretcher-bearer was finished. I could return to my carpentering. I set to work shaping heavy pieces of green wood, while I thought of many things, such things as rise in the mind when it is deprived of slumber and steeped
in bitterness.

About eight o'clock in the morning the whole population of flies saluted the sun, which was slowly disengaging itself from the mists; and these creatures began to give themselves up to their great daily orgy.


All those who were on the Somme during 1916 will retain forever the memory of the flies. The disorder of the battlefield,its richness in carrion, the abnormal accumulation of men, animals, spoiled food " all these causes brought about thatyear a formidable hatching of flies. They seemed to have assembled from all points of the globe to be present at an exceptional and solemn occasion.

They were of all species,and the world of men, delivered over to their hatred, remained without defense against this loathsome invasion. During a whole summer they were the mistresses, the queens, and they did not have to bargain for their food.

At Hill 80 I saw wounds swarming with larvae, a sight one had almost forgotten since the Battle of the Marne. I saw the flies hurl themselves upon the blood and pus of the wounds and gorge themselves with such drunken frenzy that you could seize them with your fingers or with a pair of pincers before they would consent to fly away and leave their feast. They spread all sorts of infections and gangrene. The army suffered cruelly from them, and it is really astonishing that
the victory did not remain definitely with them.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Musical Imagery from the Great War

Found at the Europeana Collections


Click on Images to Enlarge


Bagpipe Band Performing at Gare du Nord, Paris, 1916


Elsie Janis, Future "Sweetheart" of the AEF in 1915


War Music by Camille Saint-Saëns


Banjo Band of Blinded War Veterans


British Postcard


Trench Musician


French Bugler 


A Regimental Band Leads the Troops Off to War



Composer Maurice Ravel, Who Drove a Truck at Verdun

Thanks to Andrew Melomet for bringing these to my attention.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Offutt Air Force Base and the Great War


By Editor/Publisher Mike Hanlon

I spent three formative years of my life stationed at Offutt, AFB, Nebraska. Back then, it was known for being the Headquarters, Strategic Air Command, and for its starring roles in the Cold War classic films Fail Safe and Dr. Strangelove.  Most important for my post-Air Force career was my service there under three memorable lt. colonels. Two were great bosses, Colonels Cooke Leutwyler and Tom Madigan.  One was not, but the lessons I learned from him may have been the most valuable I carried over from my military service.

Anyway, it popped into my head recently that the airfield for what was way back then the Army's Fort Crook had been active during the Great War and that it had been dedicated sometime after the Armistice in honor of a local aviator, Jarvis Offutt, who had died in the war. I decided to check out how my old duty station remembered its WWI service during the Centennial and discovered these very nicely done graphics prepared by the Air Force. These the story of Fort Crook, Lt. Offutt, and of the units associated with Offutt AFB today that can trace their lineage back to World War I.  

Click on Images to Enlarge



Tuesday, February 11, 2020

The Rape of Belgium: The Untold Story of World War I


by Larry Zuckerman
NYU Press, 2004
John D Beatty, Reviewer


Dinant Memorial to Its 674 Civilians Killed by the German Army

One of the benefits of being a casual student of the Great War is that you can be surprised by new information when reading about subjects "everyone knows about already". Larry Zuckerman has produced one of those books in the pantheon of Great War literature where even the most knowledgeable Great War scholars can learn something or, if not get new facts, learn how the West came to see what the Germans seemed to be capable of. The Rape of Belgium starts with a description of a Belgium that few people before 1914 can appreciate. It was a happy, industrious, prosperous state with the fifth-largest manufacturing base in Europe, secure within its borders with a small professional army and navy, a treaty recognizing her neutrality, and influential friends in Germany and France. Belgium, a country carved out of what had been both French and Dutch territory by the Congress of Vienna, embraced Flemish, Walloon, and Luxembourgian ambitions within its borders. Its railroads and other commercial highways were the envy of Europe.

And those excellent roads, Zuckerman holds, was their problem. Germany's Schlieffen Plan depended on Belgium's granite roadways as highways to Paris and the early defeat of France so that they could turn their attentions to slow-mobilizing Russia. The author expounds on this topic as easily and as clearly as he does on the lowly tubers in his The Potato: How the Humble Spud Rescued the Western World (North Point Press, 1998)—with verve and detail that never gets dull. He's quite clear about German Chancellor von Bethmann-Hollweg's contemptuous "scrap of paper" dismissal of Belgian neutrality and its effect on world opinion, especially Britain. He's also quite clear on how the Belgian atrocity stories that started not long after were gross exaggerations and that the truth was worse.

The truth of the story that followed the early reports and wild tales is something between a Kafkaesque tragedy of disbelief and ignorance and a preview of what was to come in 1939, when Germany would march again. The Germans blamed the Belgians for not allowing them to simply stroll through, standing aside so they could destroy the French more quickly, with an offhand thought about how puny Belgium dragged Britain into the war. This attitude toward Belgium triggered the real "rape" of Belgium: systematic looting, confiscation of machinery, forced labor, ignoring Belgian laws and customs, and a halfhearted attempt to separate Flemings and Walloons by suggesting that Belgium would be partitioned.

The book pulls few punches when it comes to describing Germany's years of abuse of Belgium's resources. Zuckerman holds that Germany held Belgium in contempt for simply obeying German demands and that Germans could not understand why the world thought Germany was somehow a bad actor in the case of Belgium. The occupiers even went so far as to punish the families of people who killed themselves with guns, fining them for the cost of the ammunition and advising others to hang themselves, as copper was short.


Even as the war ended in 1918, when the armistice negotiations were going on between Berlin, Paris, London, and Washington, Belgium was not consulted. When the Versailles conference began, Belgium was treated with less regard than even China, but Zuckerman admits that may have been because of Belgium's small military contributions. While acknowledging that Belgium had a small and fragile force on the Western Front, her total military casualties from 1914 to 1918 amounted to four days of French losses in August 1914 alone. After the war, Zuckerman tells us, there were war crimes trials of a sort, but they were held in Germany, by German courts, and the sentences handed out were minor.

There are some surprises. For instance, The Rape of Belgium states that Germany was running low on ammunition as early as October 1914; after the Somme/Verdun catastrophes of 1916, much of the German Army no longer cared if the war was won or lost as long as it ended; as late as July 1918 it was clear that German officials expected to stay in Belgium indefinitely. The role of Belgian Relief, the Herbert Hoover-driven American organization, was also somewhat smaller than most Americans had been led to believe—and the Germans thought their agents to be spies. Also, Belgian relief ships were torpedoed by German submarines, marked or not.

In all, The Rape of Belgium is an interesting and informative read, recommended for Great War aficionados who are looking to get away from battle narratives (there are none here) and learn something they thought they knew about poor little Belgium.

John D. Beatty, MA, Am Mil History

Monday, February 10, 2020

Clemenceau to the Front



Georges Clemenceau visited the Western Front —all of the sectors—many times after the war began. His tours of inspection had taken him to the North Sea and to the Vosges, to the Somme and to Verdun. He met with troops and observed the condition of their trenches, the state of their armaments, and the quality of their medical care. He shared meals with the poilus, discussing the mud, the noise, the rations, and the fleas. He befriended doctors at the Red Cross stations and hurled creative insults and threats at the German soldiers on the other side of the line. 


There was a political strategy behind this.  The poilus were encouraged by his many visits to the trenches. This confidence began to spread from the trenches to the home front. After years of criticism against the French Army for its conservatism and Catholicism, Clemenceau needed help to get along with the military leaders to achieve a sound strategic plan. The support of the troops and the citizenry was essential for gaining the generals' support.


In parallel with his political strategy was his military diplomacy. Clemenceau was equally energetic in visiting the Allied forces. There are countless  photos of him with British Tommies and American Doughboys. He also got along well with Field Marshal Haig, especially since Haig had supported naming Ferdinand Foch as generalissimo of the Allied forces. On the other hand, Clemenceau never seemed to embrace American commander John J. Pershing. This may have had its origin in Pershing's unbending  attitude on the amalgamation issue or, maybe, just personality differences. There's a hilarious account of Clemenceau's rage at Pershing over being trapped in a massive traffic jam in the opening of the Argonne Offensive.



(Sources: Stories Under Paris, Wikipedia)

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Goeben and the Naval War in the Black Sea, Part II of II


Russian Battleship Imperatritsa Mariia

By Steve McLaughlin

(Part I of this article was presented yesterday, 8 February 2020, in Roads to the Great War)

The next few months saw only a few minor actions. The Russians continued to snap up Turkish shipping on the Anatolian coast, and during one of these sweeps the destroyers Derzkii and Gnevnyi had a brief encounter with the Breslau off the Bosporus on the night of 11 June. Gnevnyi was disabled by the cruiser's gunfire, but Derzkii managed to cut across the Breslau's stern and rake her, scoring three hits that killed seven men and wounded 15. Derzkii had to tow Gnevnyi back to Sevastopol. On 18 July, Breslau struck a mine, which put her out of commission for several months. That same month the strength of the Russian fleet was considerably increased by the completion of the Imperatritsa Mariia, a 23,000-ton dreadnought with a battery of 12 l2-in guns. Although Imperatritsa Mariia was far more powerful than Goeben, she was a couple of knots slower. A sister ship, Imperatritsa Ekaterina Velikaya, joined the fleet in October.

The Russians had by mid-1915 achieved a commanding position in the war in the Black Sea. Dozens of Turkish steamers and hundreds of sailing ships had been captured or destroyed, seriously interfering with both the coal supply to Constantinople and the support of the army in the Caucasus. Goeben made few appearances in the Black Sea for the rest of the year. The appearance of German U-boats in July, however, forced the Russians to be more cautious in their operations against the Turkish coast.

1916 opened with a brief encounter between Goeben and lmperatritsa Ekaterina Velikaya off Zonguldak on 8 January. Both sides had been drawn there by the same thing—a freighter full of coal, bound for Constantinople. Goeben was sent out to convoy her safely to the capital, but the freighter had already been sunk by Russian destroyers by the time Goeben arrived. Goeben chased the destroyers and suddenly found herself confronted by the new Russian dreadnought. Both big ships opened fire at a range of more than 20,000 yards, but neither side scored any hits and once again Goeben's speed got her out of trouble. In a somewhat similar encounter in April, Breslau managed to escape from some accurate salvos from Imperatritsa Mariia.

Cruiser SMS Breslau

In spite of the growing submarine menace, the Russian Black Sea Fleet was able to provide gunfire support for the army on the Caucasus front and also carried out two successful amphibious landings that aided the Russian drive toward the important port of Trebizond, which was captured in April.

In July, Admiral Ebergardt was replaced by Vitse-Admiral Aleksandr Vasilievich Kolchak. Although successful in containing the Goeben and in disrupting Turkey's seaborne logistics, Ebergardt had apparently had arguments with army commanders over supporting the Caucasian offensives and there was dissatisfaction with his handling of the U-boat threat. Kolchak was a young, aggressive commander who had acquired a great deal of experience with mine warfare in the Baltic. One of his first actions was to begin a mining offensive against both the Bosporus and the main U-boat base at Varna, in Bulgaria. These efforts were remarkably successful—in September and October, four U-boats were lost, virtually ending the German submarine threat in the Black Sea. The only Russian setback in this period came on 20 October, when Imperatritsa Mariia blew up in Sevastopol harbor. Unstable ammunition was the cause, although it was widely rumored that the ship had been sabotaged by German agents.

Even with this loss, however, the Black Sea Fleet had a decisive margin of superiority over the Turko-German fleet. In fact, the Russian offensive against the coal transports between Zonguldak and Constantinople had been so successful that the Goeben and the Breslau spent most of the latter part of 1916 riding at anchor in the Sea of Marmara, practically immobilized. The old Russian battleships provided valuable support not only on the Caucasus front but also to the collapsing Romanian Army, their only opposition coming from increasingly active (but as yet merely annoying) German aircraft.

Vitse-Admiral Aleksandr Vasilievich Kolchak

With Goeben contained and the U-boat problem under control, the Russians now had almost complete command of the Black Sea; ambitious officers at Stavka turned their thoughts toward that ancient Russian desire, seizing the Bosporus and capturing Constantinople. The idea had already received the blessing of Russia's allies in secret agreements, and given the military situation at the end of 1916, a successful amphibious assault could have been decisive. It would almost certainly have knocked Turkey out of the war and, more important for Russia's tottering economy, opened the Straits to Allied cargo ships. Tsar Nicholas II himself informed Kolchak of these plans. Troops were assembled at Odessa and transport ships gathered.

All this came to naught. The February Revolution that overthrew the tsarist government also led to military and political confusion; the assault on the Bosporus was forgotten as Kolchak struggled to maintain the fighting efficiency of his fleet. The Baltic Fleet had already been wracked by mutiny and the murder of officers, but the Black Sea Fleet continued its operations throughout the spring. By summer, however, the effects of the revolution were making themselves felt. Strikes and industrial disruption had left many ships languishing for want of repairs and slowed the supply of mines to a trickle. Worse, revolutionary sailors from the Baltic Fleet had arrived and were goading their Black Sea brethren to throw off the aristocratic oppression of the officer corps. In June 1917, the Council of Soldiers, Sailors, and Workers passed a resolution ordering officers to surrender their personal weapons. Enraged, Kolchak berated the crew of his flagship, pointing out that even the Japanese had allowed him to keep his sword while in captivity during the Russo-Japanese War. With that, he flung overboard his golden sword—given him for bravery in the war with Japan—and resigned his command. Kontre-Admiral Veniamin Kostantinovich Lukin took command of the fleet, but by then there was no real fighting force left to command.

As the Russians collapsed, Goeben and Breslau continued to support the Turkish war effort. On 20 January 1918 they steamed out of the Dardanelles for a daring raid on the British blockading force, based at Imbros. The monitors Raglan and M.28 were sunk, but Breslau was sunk in a British minefield and Goeben was damaged by three mines. She limped back into the Dardanelles, ran aground, and was subject to numerous attacks by British aircraft before she was finally got off and limped back to Constantinople.


Battleship Panteleimon (former Potemkin)
In March 1918, Goeben achieved her pinnacle of glory—she steamed into Odessa harbor with an armistice commission aboard, and a few days later she was in Sevastopol, supervising the disarming of the Russian ships there. This triumph was short-lived—the Turks agreed to an armistice with the Allies on 31 October 1918. Shortly after, the Goeben's German crew departed, and the ship, for the first time crewed by Turkish officers and men, was immediately disarmed. She had a long, sleepy career in the Turkish Navy as Yavuz Sultan Selim (later renamed simply Yavuz) and was finally scrapped in the mid-1970s.

As for the Black Sea Fleet, it became "Ukrainian" when the Germans seized the Crimea. The Armistice in November led to a German withdrawal but brought little peace to Russia. During the Civil War most ships joined the White cause, but British observers noted that the crews were disaffected and the officers arrogant and sometimes cruel. With the collapse of General Baron Petr Nikolaevich Wrangel's White army in November 1920, the remnants of the once-powerful Black Sea Fleet ferried some 145,000 refugees from the Crimea to Turkey, then steamed on to Bizerte in French Tunisia. There, in October 1924, the St. Andrew's flag was raised for the last time—until Boris Yeltsin ordered the Black Sea Fleet to hoist it once again in 1991.

This article originally appeared in the Fall 1992 issue of Relevance: The Journal of the Great War Society

Sources:
Drashpil, Boris. "Re: Goeben," Warship International, 30 June 1971.

Greger, Rene. The Russian Fleet, 1914–1917.

Nekrasov, George. North of Gallipoli: The Black Sea Fleet at War, 1914–1917.

Photos from the collection of the late R.D. Layman