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

Friday, December 6, 2019

Doughboy Memories: Deploying "Over There"

Camp Dix, NJ, Ready to Ship Out

We'll be over, we're coming over,
And we won't come back till it's over over there.

After the April declaration of war, the American deployments to Europe were minimal, but for October 1917 the numbers jumped to over 30,000 for that single month. That level would be maintained over the winter months and would then begin growing exponentially through the summer, peaking at 10,000 men per day in July 1918. During the 19 months of U.S. involvement over 7.5 million tons of supplies also accompanied the troops.

Four Canadian and six American embarkation ports were used for transporting the AEF. Nearly 83 percent of the Doughboys (1,656,000), however, departed from New York area ports, including Hoboken, NJ.

At four o'clock we started down the main road leading to the railroad station. As we passed the other barracks, heads appeared at the windows to wave farewell to some comrade or to wish the men good luck and "God's Speed." The hour being early, there were no people at the station with the exception of the regular force and a former member of our company. He had been transferred two days previous to another organization that was to remain in the United States. There were tears in his eyes as he wished us good luck.

News of our coming had evidently preceded us for whistles and sirens blew and along the way workmen waved to us from various buildings. At Jersey City a crowd of people had gathered. We passed through the crowd in a lane made by soldiers with fixed bayonets. A ferry was waiting for us that took us to the "Bush Terminal" at Brooklyn. A few minutes wait on the pier and the battalion filed up the gangplank, receiving a final checking as they did so, to board HMS Kia Ora.
Albert Haas, 78th Division

Doughboys Embarking onto a Navy Warship

Fully half of the AEF was transported by British-controlled vessels. The American share constituted another 45 percent, although a good part of this work was accomplished by German vessels seized by the government. Allies Italy and France provided the remaining 2 to 3 percent of the shipping needs.

The most popular debarkation sites were Brest (791,000) and Liverpool (844,000). A surprising detail is that almost 50 percent of the men initially landed in England rather than France and then traveled across Britain and the Channel to the continent.

Each man was given a cloth tag which was to serve as his meal ticket besides showing the number of his hatch, letter of his deck, number of his bunk and [life] raft or boat number. This tag was to be worn at all times and to be punched at each meal.
Al Burns, 113th Engineers

In Transit to France—Lifeboat Drill

The trip Over There was both exciting and boring for the soldiers. Lifeboat drills and the sounding of U-boat alarms livened things up. Troop losses in transit were low but not non-existent, as some sources claim. Most notably the sinking of SS Tuscania and HMS Otranto led to multiple American fatalities.

The torpedo had struck us [aboard the SS Tuscania] squarely amidships on the starboard side. A great hole was torn in the hull. . . These ten or fifteen minutes elapsing from the moment we were struck were filled with action. With all indications of a speedy sinking staring us in the face, we worked feverishly to lower the lifeboats and cut away the rafts. . .
Henry J. Askew, 20th Engineers Aboard Tuscania

4th Infantry Arriving at Brest, France

All in all, and despite the somewhat helter-skelter rapid mobilization of the nation, the transport of the AEF to Europe was a tremendous success, given that the German Admiralty had boasted that not a single American soldier would ever set foot in France. By Armistice Day, 2,057,675 members of the military had been transported to Europe.

A Frenchman raised his cap and waved to the soldiers leaning over the rail and cried, "Vive l'Amerique? Vive les Americaines!" A Doughboy on the deck called back through his hands, "Vive yourself, you damned frog!"
Charles M. DuPuy, 79th Division

American Troops Parade in Liverpool, England

Had the war continued into 1919, 2 million more Doughboys were to be sent Over There during the first half of the year. Fortunately, they were not to be needed.

Dear Wife,
Will write you a few lines to let you know that I am all OK and doing fine. . . The place we are in now is sure fine, and the people treat the U.S. boys like kings and they sure cheer us when we go marching by.
Wayne Wills, 28th Division

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Under Fire at Jutland

By a Midshipman from the Fore-top of the Battleship HMS Neptune

My action station was in the control top, some 60 or 70 feet above the upper deck, access to which could be gained either by ascending an interminably long iron ladder running up the interior of the mast, or by climbing up outside the tripod by means of iron rungs riveted  on the struts. Experience of the difficulties of ascent had induced me some time ago to have made a blue jean bag, in whose capacious interior I always kept the thousand and one gadgets so essential for the proper and comfortable fighting of an action,  ear protectors, binoculars, a stop watch, a pistol, a camera, a respirator, sundry scarves, woolen helmet, and so forth. It was armed with this weighty 'battle-bag’ that I clambered up the starboard strut of the foremast, past the steam siren (which sizzled ominously as one approached it;  (it is an abominable experience to have a siren actually siren when you are near to it !), through a belt of hot acrid funnel smoke, and finally into the top through the "lubber’s" hole. . .

It is a curious sensation being under heavy fire at  a long range. The time of flight seems more like 30 minutes than the 30 or so seconds that it actually is.  A great rippling gush of flame breaks out from the enemy’s guns some miles away, and then follows a pause, during which one can reflect that somewhere in that great ‘no man’s land’ 2 or 3 tons of metal and explosive are hurtling towards one. 

The mountainous splashes which announce the arrival of each successive  salvo rise simultaneously in bunches of four or five to  an immense height. One or two salvos fell short of  us early in the action, and the remainder, I suppose, must have gone over as I did not see them. The Hercules, four ships astern of us, had been straddled on deployment, a feat which had greatly impressed me with the capabilities of the German gunnery, but, with the exception of the Colossus, which received a 12-inch shell in the fore-superstructure and sundry small stuff  round about her fo’c’sle, no single battleship suffered any real damage from the German’s gunfire. 

The  enemy, however, clearly received some punishment as two battle cruisers, which were rather closer than were their other ships, were engaged by us and by most ships of the rear squadron at one time or another, and we  saw at least two of our salvos hit, after which the two enemy battle cruisers dropped astern, to all appearances badly damaged. The warm, red glow of a ‘hit' is easily distinguishable from the flash of a salvo, and  is extremely pleasant to look upon. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Machine Gun Lessons from the Somme

Despite heavy reinforcement, the 1st and 2nd German Armies at the Somme continued to suffer from a shortage of artillery and munitions throughout the 1916 battle. Consequently, with limited artillery support, German infantry at the Somme was often left to its own devices for defense. Hand grenades, once a specialist weapon, were used extensively to aid in  defense, as were a growing range of small-caliber mortars. Both types of weapons gave the infantry some much-needed close support.

However, it was the machine gun that really provided the fire support so required by the defending infantry. "Lessons-learned" reports recognized the centrality of the machine gun to the success of the defense on the Somme. The 1st Battalion, Reserve Infantry Regiment 28 wrote: “The infantry battle was always supported by our machine guns. As long as the machine guns and their crews were intact, every English attack was bound to be beaten back.”

As machine guns became more and more important, German units quickly found that they could never have enough of these. Most regiments had an establishment of 15 machine guns at the beginning of the battle. The 1st Army was successful in finding enough guns to bring this up to 25 or 30 over the course of the battle.

Prior to the battle, German defensive doctrine maintained that machine guns should be employed in the forward-most trench. However, the battle showed that guns deployed forward would quickly be destroyed. Instead, units deployed their machine guns in depth in shell holes with instructions to fire only at the last minute to avoid being spotted by enemy aircraft. The 183rd Infantry Division wrote:“Single machine guns deployed outside of trenches proved themselves to be especially  worthwhile in the battle, since they were not discovered by enemy artillery, which concentrated mainly on the trenches. Repeatedly, enemy breakthrough attempts were brought to a halt by machine guns deployed like this.”

The battle showed once again the importance of flanking gunfire, which had a great moral effect on the enemy and helped keep guns hidden. Indeed, some units even took to using a barrage of fire from machine guns firing over the heads of the frontline infantry. Of course, the importance of machine guns was also recognized by the Entente, and every effort was made to put them out of service. Consequently, gun crews suffered high casualties. Based on previous experience, the machine gun company of Infantry Regiment 65 went into the line with more crews than needed and asked for additional infantrymen to be assigned as the battle wore on.

This company also recommended that once a gun fired, it should change position, as the enemy focused his artillery on German machine guns. Reports after report stressed the need for more men to be trained to use machine guns, both German and enemy, to take the place of the gun teams when they were wounded or killed. Consequently, one of the key recommendations to come out of the battle was that training on machine guns be extended to ordinary infantry men as well.

Indeed, the battle of the Somme proved once and for all that the days of a uniformly armed infantry were well and truly over. From this point on, infantry units would be armed with a wide array of weapons, from rifles to hand grenades to small mortars and to ever increasing numbers of machine guns.

Source: "Learning War’s Lessons: The German Army and the Battle of the Somme 1916," Robert T. Foley, University of Liverpool

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Blanc Mont Ridge 1918: America's Forgotten Victory

by Romain Cansière and Ed Gilbert
Osprey Publishing, 2018
Courtland Jindra, Reviewer

Depiction of the Fighting on Blanc Mont by George Harding

Though I've lived in California for many years, I am a native Texan. For that reason, the Battle for and around Blanc Mont fought by the Army and Marine 2nd Division and the Texas-Oklahoma National Guard 36th Division, has interested me ever since I really started diving into WWI history. The 36th Division's exploits around St. Etienne are highly visible in the Texas Military Museum at Camp Mabry, Austin. However, when one reads about the AEF the battle is rarely brought up, and then it is only in passing. This is even more surprising given the involvement of the Marine Brigade, arguably the most famous single American military unit in the war. When I visited France in 2018, one of the things I wanted to see most was the Blanc Mont Memorial and it was one of my favorites. For these reasons, I was extremely eager to finally sit down and read Blanc Mont Ridge 1918: America's Forgotten Victory.

The book is very short but provides some in-depth information. The volume is broken down into a few short introductory chapters where backstory is given on the war, the position itself, the opposing forces, and the respective commanders. I especially enjoyed the different Order of Battle breakdowns.

A fairly lengthy chapter summarizes the month-long engagement on an almost day by day basis. There are some fantastic maps included to help the reader figure out exactly what happened on the ground. Though I still got turned around a few times, these are by far the best maps I've seen in a book on the Great War as far as orienting me on the battlefield. It's often one of my main criticisms with these books that I get lost with who is where (not to mention that often places that are named in the text aren't even included on the maps). In this case, I mostly knew exactly where everyone was. Also, bravo to the illustrations by Graham Turner, which were all excellent and should be hanging on someone's wall at home.

There's a small summary section where the authors attempt to explore the legacy of the battle. They explore what happened to the 2nd and 36th Divisions after the fighting, the monuments and memorials to be seen in the area today, and why exactly the struggle, one that Phillipe Pétain called "the single greatest achievement of the year 1918 campaign" is now little more than a footnote. They suggest that General Lejeune himself might have been to blame, thinking he was outfoxed by the French in how he deployed his forces in the battle.

While at times the book is a little on the dry side, overall it reads quickly. Not only are there numerous maps but it is also filled to the brim with photographs, both from the era and of the region today. These also help bring alive the text, even if things occasionally bog down with unit movements.

I have been told there is at least one other book on the battle coming down the pipeline. Perhaps the battle will not be forgotten much longer.

Courtland Jindra

Monday, December 2, 2019

Redemption: British Forces Recapture Kut-el-Amara, 24 February 1917

British Forces on the March in Mesopotamia

Almost exactly ten months after the surrender of General Townshend to the Turks in Kut-el-Amara, British, troops have again entered this squalid little town on the left bank of the Tigris. It has been clear from General Stanley Maude's recent messages that the British could have reduced Kut to a heap of mud bricks at any time during the past month or so. The actual entry into Kut could also have been effected much earlier than has been the case, but the urgency of the operations had disappeared after it was seen that they had failed to effect the relief of General Townsend's force.

General Stanley Maude (1864–1917)
After that event the British were able to devote more time to the important matter of communications and supplies, and the capture of the town of Kut became a secondary consideration to that of preparing to break the military power of the Turk in this region. The encircling movement on the southern side of the Tigris, the advance along the Shatt-el-Hai, and the crossing of the Tigris, westward of Kut at the Shumrou bend, combined with the simultaneous attacks on the Sannalyat positions farther eastward have had a far-reaching effect upon the Mesopotamian operations. Not only have the British secured what remains of the town of Kut, but they have caused the collapse of the whole of the strong Turkish defensive positions eastward of that town, which previously baffled all attempts of the British relief forces to advance on the northern side of the Tigris. In addition to this, they have secured 1730 prisoners, inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy, and forced him to retreat in the direction of Baghela, a town lying on the southern bank of the Tigris, about 25 miles west of Kut.

While all this was very satisfactory, it must not be forgotten that the British here are fighting in difficult country, and that a distance of over 100 miles still separates them from Baghdad, while the journey by river is over twice that distance. In any further British advance which is made in this direction the matter of communications will have to receive additional attention, and by this factor the rate of progress will probably be governed. The river above Kut, however, does not offer so many difficulties to navigation as it does lower down, and the current between Baghdad and Kut is not so severe as it is between the latter town and Basra. [Baghdad, in fact, would fall quickly, on 11 March 1917.]

Source: Sydney Morning Herald, 28 February 1917

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Kaiser Willhelm II Sends Bismarck Packing

"Dropping the Pilot," British Cartoon, 1890

Incompatible in temperament, aspirations, and methods for conducting diplomacy, Bismarck and the Kaiser worked together for two years before the "Iron Chancellor" was sent packing. Wilhelm subsequently played a more personal and often destructive role in shaping policy, with the Russian-German relationship quickly withering.

After Kaiser Wilhelm II's accession to the throne in June 1888, conflict between the old chancellor Bismarck and the 29-year-old emperor was almost inevitable. Tensions came to a head over the workers' question and how to deal with the Social Democrats. Germany had experienced a wave of strikes in 1889, and opinion was divided on how to meet the challenge. Wilhelm II did not want to start his reign with bloodshed. His Royal Decree of February 1890 promised social reform and workers' protection. But Bismarck was more inclined toward a collision course with the Social Democrats, who had emerged from the Reichstag elections of February 1890 with more votes than any other party. He hoped to provoke a domestic crisis that would make him indispensable. On 15 March 1890, Bismarck was awoken at 9 a.m. with the news that the Kaiser wished to see him in the Foreign Office in half an hour's time. At last the break between the two men could no longer be postponed, and a rancorous, awkward scene resulted, leaving Bismarck no choice but to offer his resignation. As it happened, more than two days ensued before he did so, during which time both men tried to seize the tactical advantage (Bismarck wanted to draw up a letter of resignation that could be published later).

Source: German History in Documents and Images

Friday, November 29, 2019

Thursday, November 28, 2019

A Newly Arrived Doughboy Aviator Appreciates Thanksgiving

Dated 22 December 1917,  this letter was written by Alabamian Penrose Vass Stout while stationed in France to his sister, Rebecca Stout, in Hartsville, South Carolina. In the letter, Stout reports

Then Thanksgiving came along and we had a real good American dinner, turkey, pumpking pie and all the rest.  It was your birthday, too, Tooks, and of all the things to be thankful for I found you at the head of the list.

The letter goes on to give detailed descriptions of camp  life, flight training, and the soldiers' preparations to celebrate Christmas.

Source: The Alabama Centennial Site

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Remembering a Veteran: Father Anthony Cecil Pollen
Ship's Chaplain, HMS Warspite

In the midst of the greatest naval battle of the Great War, Catholic chaplain Father A.C. Pollen (1860–1940) proved his courage. He was wounded at Jutland, mentioned in despatches, and awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for Gallantry in Action, the only chaplain to receive this decoration.

The worst cases we had sent down to us forward were of burns, due to a cordite fire breaking out in the starboard 6-inch battery.  Eleven cases, including Father Pollen, the RC Chaplain, were brought down suffering from very severe and extensive burns of the face, body and limbs. They were so badly burnt that one could do very little to relieve them or their pain and shock, injections of morphine seeming to have little, if any, effect on them. Father Pollen sustained his burns (face, hands and legs) through helping to rescue the men of the guns' crews who were on fire from the cordite.
Surgeon Gordon Ellis

Father Anthony had a great wit; when he reported to the captain of the Warspite, the captain said, "I hope we shall get on, but I think it fair to tell you that I don’t like Catholics," to which F. Anthony replied, "I am sure, Sir, that we shall get on, as, to be candid, I detest Protestants." They did become friends and played golf together during the short intervals at Scapa when they could get ashore.

HMS Warspite Absorbed More Large Shells Than Any Other Ship at Jutland. 
She Would Survive and Serve at Normandy 28 Years Later

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Pershing's Tankers: Personal Accounts of the AEF Tank Corps in World War I

Edited by Lawrence M. Kaplan. 
Forward by Dale E. Wilson
University Press of Kentucky, 2018
Bruce G. Sloan, Reviewer

Dear Beatrice:
One year ago today we reached Paris full of desire to kill Germans. We are still full of desire but so far as I am concerned there are just as many Germans as there were then. Sometimes I deeply regret that I did not take the infantry last November instead of the tanks.
George S. Patton, Letter, 13 June 1918

Probably the best explanation of Pershing's Tankers is a long quote from the Forword by Dale E. Wilson, who also wrote Treat 'Em Rough, which I previously reviewed for this blog on 30 July 2019. He describes how:

The cornerstone of this collection is the narratives American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) Tank Corps commander Brigadier General Samuel D. Rockenbach ordered his officers to write while their experience was fresh in their minds. Hoping to capture the essence of armored warfare and the important place it had on the modern battlefield, he instructed them to write in the first person and to avoid the dull language characteristic of most after-action reports.

Col. Wilson goes on to explain sources and processes further, but the foregoing should give you the gist. Both unexpected and refreshing is the humor included in many of the reports. As an example, Col. George Patton's combat report was humorously self-deprecating—NOT what I would have expected.

After a short summary of the Tank Corps operations, plus the Congressional testimony given by General Rockenbach and his January 1920 article in Infantry Journal, all of which set the historical and administrative basis for the Corps, we jump right into the Official Tank Corps Personal-Experience Reports.

These reports all start when the particular officer (or enlisted personnel, many of whom became an officer) joined the AEF, and especially when they got involved with the Tank Corps. They typically end when the officer was wounded, the Armistice was signed, or when the officer finally was allowed to go home.

The reports are organized by unit and by action, which can be followed on the maps in the back of the book. Unfortunately, as with most narratives of combat I read, the maps are barely sufficient, and I was left with my head spinning from time to time. (I understand this is normally caused by the publisher being too damn cheap, NOT by the author/editor.)

The two types of units, those with light tanks (the French Renault), and those with heavy tanks (the British Mark V, Mark V*, male, female, & composite), were in separate actions or sectors of the same battle. After some very nice representative photos, we read the Unofficial Personal Accounts, including personal correspondence to wives, fathers, and relatives of those "gone west," newspapers, books, and so on. The Tank Corps Organization Charts, Order of Battle, are included, as is a chart highlighting the type and number of tanks the U.S. Army planned to procure during an extended war.

I recommend Pershing's Tankers highly, as it includes both dry and colorful reporting. By the end the reader has a much better idea of who these young (and sometimes older) pioneers were.

Bruce G. Sloan

Monday, November 25, 2019

North Carolina's Breaking of the Hindenburg Line Commemorated

In a remarkably executed one-year effort—conceived of by proud North Carolinians John Merritt, David Sneeden, and Jerry  Hester—the Tar Heel State has seen that the greatest achievement of its sons during the First World War will be remembered. In late September 1918 the 60th Brigade (National Guardsmen from North Carolina) of the 30th AEF Division broke through the "impregnable" Hindenburg Line at the village of Nauroy, France.  On 10 November 2019, 364 days after the project was conceived, the monument shown below was dedicated on the site of the division's fighting at Nauroy.

Click on Images to Enlarge


The monument, designed by Jeff Allen Associates of Winston-Salem, NC, features an obelisk on a large base with informational panel and was carved from North Carolina white granite.  The sculpture is topped with a  Doughboy helmet mounted at a resting angle.  The division patch is conspicuous on both the monument and the division flag carried by the color guard for the dedication.  It superimposes "O" and "H" for "Old Hickory" and XXX representing 30th Division.  Along the top of the flag can be seen the battle streamer for the 1918 victory.

Nauroy was on the front line for the last two years of the war and was fortified and incorporated into the German defensive network. The village lost many men in the war who are remembered at the community's war memorial.  The North Carolina memorial could not have been built without the wholehearted support of  the village's citizens.

The Mayor of Nauroy (center) hosted a groundbreaking ceremony in May 2019.  Susi Hamilton, NC Secretary of the Dept. of Cultural Affairs (left),  represented her state, and Jerry Hester (yellow shirt), one of the three initiators of the project, represented the National World War One Centennial Commission.  The site was designated the Place Caroline du Nord. 

10 November 2019

The North Carolina delegation at the dedication ceremony:  BG Todd Hunt, NC National Guard; Susi Hamilton, NC Sec. Dept. of Cultural Resources; Erich Hooks, NC Sec. of Public Safety; Martin Falls, NC Asst. Sec. of Veterans Affairs

After the unveiling.  On the home front the funding the effort was made possible through the generosity of the private citizens and counties of North Carolina, with the support of the state's National Guard.

North Carolina presented a plaque with a Doughboy helmet matching the one topping the monument to Nauroy mayor Jean-Jacques Froment

Three officers of the NC National Guard had grandfathers who fought at Nauroy.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

The Beautiful Le Trou Aid Post Cemetery

Le Trou Aid Post Cemetery at Fleurbaix (3 miles NW of Fromelles) is one of the most pleasant-looking and -feeling cemeteries I've visited on the Western Front.  

It contains more than 350 British burials from the time of the First Battle of Ypres to about the time of the Battle of the Somme. It was designed by the British and South African architect Sir Richard Baker, who also designed the Indian Memorial at Neuve Chapelle.

Le Trou exemplifies the "English country garden" approach to the design of many of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries.

Sources:  CWGC; Wikicommons

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Map Series #12: Where the War Stood in August 1916

This map illustrates where the battle lines stood on 1 August 1916, exactly two years into the war and after the launching of the Verdun, Somme, and Brusilov offenses but before their conclusions.  Only the European theaters are shown.

Russia fared poorly, losing control of territory in what is now Poland, Ukraine, and the Baltics, while Serbia had been overrun. Fighting on the Western Front and in Italy had accomplished essentially nothing beyond what the Germans had managed to achieve before the Battle of the Marne.  The tiny blue line near Salonika in Greece represents a small Allied force that had seized the city to try to maintain a token force in the Balkans. Their presence embroiled Greek politics in crisis but had little military significance until the Central Powers were on their last legs.

The map was presented in the February 2016 issue of Carrying the Torch from the Friends of the Canadian War Museum.  The original source was not cited.

Click on Image to Enlarge

Friday, November 22, 2019

World War One Is Not Forgotten at Arlington

Our resident documentarian and my fellow Air Force (SAC) veteran Steve Miller visited Arlington National Cemetery on this past Veterans/Armistice Day. Since his last pilgrimage there he discovered that several measures have been taken to insure the nation's sacrifices during the Great War are remembered.

The visitors center has added a nicely done informational kiosk—

The standard tour program includes a stop at General Pershing's grave, which is in the midst of the section set aside for his fellow WWI vets.

Unfortunately, the crowd and security considerations prevented the tram from operating on 11 November.  Steve, though, promises to send photos of the graves of Great War notables such as General Pershing's above (an earlier photo from Steve) and Last Doughboy Frank Buckles (Wikipedia photo below).

Thursday, November 21, 2019

The Story Behind the Famous Photo
The 55th West Lancashire Division at Givenchy

British 55th (West Lancashire) Division troops blinded by tear
gas await treatment at an Advanced Dressing Station near
Bethune, 10 April 1918 (IWM)

The above photograph, said to be the inspiration for Sargent's famous Gassed painting, was taken to the rear of a desperate stand by the British First Army, during the second of Ludendorff's Offensive in the spring of 1918, Operation Georgette.  While the photo of the wounded men is still well ciruclated in World War I publications and websites, the story of the raging battle that produced the casualties has been mostly forgotten.  This is unfortunate, because in that fighting the 55th Division made one of the most stalwart  stands of the war and succeeded in compromising the enemy's strategic aims.

On 9 April 1918, the German Sixth Army attacked north of the La Bassée Canal. Anchoring the southern end of the Allied defenses was the 55th Division commanded by Major General  Sir Hugh Jeudwine. To the division's left was the Portuguese 2nd Division. Behind was the critical rail center of  Hazebrouck, the loss of which would make the entire British deployment in Flanders untenable.

Major General  Sir Hugh Jeudwine

When the attack came the Portuguese division on the left, which had been packing up, preparing to be rotated out of the line for a rest, was quickly shattered. For the next week, with especially intense fighting over the first three days, continuous attacks were mounted by three German divisions. Their principal initial objective was to capture the village of Givenchy. At times German troops entered the town but were never able to secure it. By preserving the integrity of the rail network, the defense of Givenchy allowed Generalissimo Foch to support the defenders rapidly with reinforcements and supplies. One of Germany's great, and maybe last, opportunities of the war was foiled by the 55th Division.

In his despatches Sir Douglas Haig later wrote:

This most gallant defense, the importance of which it would be hard to overestimate.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Why Did You Enlist?
by Alan Seeger

In June 2016 we presented a 1914 report to the New York Sun by American French Foreign Legionnaire Alan Seeger HERE. Below is a selection from a longer article he wrote in May of 1915 for the progressive magazine New Republic, which would later champion America's joining the war.

I have talked with so many of the young volunteers here. Their case is little known, even by the French, yet altogether interesting and appealing. They are foreigners on whom the outbreak of war laid no formal compulsion. But they had stood on the butte in springtime perhaps, as Julian and Louise stood, and looked out; over the myriad twinkling lights of the beautiful city. Paris—mystic, maternal, personified, to whom they owed the happiest moments of their lives—Paris was in peril. Were they not under a moral obligation, no less binding than their comrades were bound legally, to put their breasts between her and destruction? Without renouncing their nationality they had yet chosen, to make their homes here beyond any other city in the world. Did not the benefits and blessings they had received point them a duty that heart and conscience could not deny?

"Why did you enlist?" In every case the answer was the same. That memorable day in August came. Suddenly the old haunts were desolate, the boom companions had gone. It was unthinkable to leave the danger to them and accept only the pleasures oneself, to go on enjoying the sweet things of life in defense of which they were perhaps even then shedding their blood in the north. Some day they would return, and with honor—not all, but some. The old order of things would have irrevocably vanished. There would be a new comradeship whose bond would be the common danger run, the common sufferings borne, the common glory shared. "And where have you been all the time, and what have you been doing?" The very question would be a reproach, though none were intended. How could they endure it?

Face to face with a situation like that a man becomes reconciled, justifies easily the part he is playing, and comes to understand, in a universe where logic counts for so little and sentiment and the impulses of the heart for so much, the inevitableness and naturalness of war. Suddenly the world is up in arms. All mankind takes sides. The same faith that made him surrender himself to the impulses of normal living and of love forces him now to make himself the instrument through which a greater force works out its inscrutable ends through the impulses of terror and repulsion. And with no less a sense of moving in harmony with a universe where masses are in continual conflict and new combinations are engendered out of eternal collisions, he shoulders arms and marches forth with haste.

If no more serious argument can be brought against war than those inconveniences and sacrifices resulting to a man from his break with merely comfortable living, I confess I cannot see the contention of the pacifist, nor am I able to understand how war can be any more reasonably objected to than parturition, for example. That too, is painful; only, being a phenomenon of common occurrence and one to which no alternative has ever been imagined even by the visionary, its inevitableness is universally accepted. It would be Well if war were equally so—the supreme demand that nature makes upon the male, as the other is the supreme demand made up on the female. Wars are the birth-pangs of new era? And he who, ready to assume the burden and share the anguish, makes himself the instrument through which this vast power operates, is playing the largest part a man can play. Though he perish while the sweetness of youth is still in him and his capacities for earthly happiness are still unexhausted, I imagine that he does so with infinitely more assurance than any hypothetical reward of a supernatural religion can afford its votary. For his comfort is the sense of his life's blood flowing close to the heart of that cosmic entity of which he feels himself a fraction, and in whose movements it is his measure of his life's success to play the most essential, the most intimate part.

This view of war in its sublimity is one that will not easily occur to the distant spectator. It takes long nights at the outposts, nights such as the last we have been spending half way up the hillside to the enemy's trenches, when the cannon thundered all along the line down toward Rheims, and, mounting toward the meteors that fell out of the morning skies, the slow-curving rockets marked the course of the battlefront across the vast, misty lowlands and into the starlit distances. Not the sense of the bestiality and inutility of it all, but rather of its entire harmoniousness in a universe properly understood is the emotion that possesses the spectator of such a scene. The easy-going pacifist will continue to talk of the horrors of militarism and the clock of civilization being set back a hundred years. This is because he is unable to conceive of evolution except as an orderly progress toward the realization of some arbitrary ideal based upon considerations of individual human well being. The philosophic mind, on the other hand, does not think of evolution in terms of anything so relative as the principles of human morality at all, but rather as an increasing complexity of phenomena—of the possibilities for happiness as well as of all else—-a process which works out through destructive influences quite as much as through inventive and creative.

Source: The New Republic, 22 May 1915

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Comments on the Film War Horse from Author Jacqueline Winspear

Conscripting a War Horse from the Film

I had already read War Horse by Michael Morpugo years ago and thought it excellent, as the story seemed to be pitch perfect for the age range it was intended for—children/young adult. Morpugo wrote the book for younger readers to give a sense of what war is all about and chose to do it through the story of a horse who was conscripted. Of those requisitioned for battle duties during the 1914–18 war, almost 500,000 from Britain alone were killed, one for every two men lost in the combined British and Commonwealth armies. It was an edgy book with a grand tale well told—and without being sappy.

Two years ago I went to see the stage production in London, and I was just amazed. Within seconds you forgot the horses were really very sophisticated puppets and you believed them to be real—again, every aspect of the production was pitch perfect. Audience attention never faltered, and the play gave a sense of the cost of the Great War and never slipped into gratuitous emotional string pulling. The lighter moments were not so light as to be flippant and distracting, which happened in the movie. I had great hopes for the film, but I have to say I was so very disappointed.

Much was lost in the film in order to gain the greater audience offered by a PG13 designation—one hardly had a sense that this was a war that cost the lives of some ten million men (historian Niall Ferguson puts combined military and civilian losses at approximately 18 million). There were several potentially very poignant moments that were spoiled by overwrought emotion in dialogue, cinematography, and musical soundtrack. One of the most significant scenes—when the British soldier met a German in no-mans-land to free the horse entangled in barbed wire—was diminished by the addition of humor—after German called for another wire cutter, about half a dozen came flying over the parapet. This slapstick to elicit laughs from the audience was a real waste of a pivotal point in the story.

Horse "Puppets" from the Stage Production

For those unfamiliar with the book and, especially, the stage production, the film will be touching and perhaps heart-wrenching. A few early reviewers thought Steven Spielberg had rushed the film production, to meet the deadline for release to be an Oscar contender. If that's so, it's a shame, though to be fair, Spielberg cannot tell a bad story. Years ago I asked a friend if she'd enjoyed the movie adaptation of The Horse Whisperer, which had just been released; at that point I had yet to see it. She was thoughtful then said, "You know, it was a good movie—but it could have been a great movie." I feel the same way about War Horse—especially as I am both a horse-lover and deeply interested in the social history of the Great War. It was a good movie—but it could have been a really great movie.

This is a photo I took at the Lochnagar Crater during one of my visits to the battlefields of the Western Front. As you know the crater is generally festooned with poppies and wreaths left by visitors. This wreath was dedicated to the horses and animals who gave their lives in the Great War and to the Royal Veterinary Corps who cared for them. That was another thing about the movie—a cameo appearance by members of the corps would have been nice. After all, if my memory serves me well, they were in the book. For those interested to read about a real equine hero of the war, I can recommend Warrior, by General Jack Seely. It has recently been published in a new edition, and tells the story of "The horse the Germans could not kill." It's a pretty amazing story about a brave—and morale-boosting—war horse. And though it means skipping over a war or two, there is always that true American war horse heroine, Reckless, whose courage under fire led to the mare being promoted to staff sergeant after the Korean War. 

Jackie Winspear (Originally Presented in the St. Mihiel Trip-Wire)

(Readers are probably aware that Jackie is the author of the best-selling series of WWI mysteries featuring that V.A.D. nurse turned sleuth, Maisie Dobbs.Learn more about Maisie HERE.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Images from the Poppy Patch at the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh

With the dry, warm weather this autumn the annual poppy, Papaver rhoeas, has produced a timely show of flowers to add color in the lead-up to Armistice Day which remembers, among many others, former members of RBGE who lost their lives during the 1914–1918 war.

The longevity of the seed held buried in the soil heralds a reminder of conflict and the need to remember those lost. Papaver rhoeas known as an agricultural weed yet giving life and beauty to cultivated land, gardens and often barren landscapes throughout Europe.

The poppy was chosen to remember all those who gave their lives during the Great War of 1914–18 as the seeds germinated following the disturbance caused by bomb damage and other combative action through the soil of Flanders fields. John McCrae noticed this and used it in his poem "In Flanders Fields," written in 1915 after he’d presided over the funeral of a friend who’d been killed during the Second Battle of Ypres. It became one of the most quoted poems during the war, was used in campaigns to recruit soldiers and raise money, and the reference to the poppies growing on the battlefields led to that flower being used as our symbol of remembrance.

Click on Images to Enlarge

Source: The Websites of the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Future Great War Allies Clash at Kirk Kilisse

A Turkish Artillery Unit Fleeing the Battlefield

A resounding Bulgarian victory over Turkish forces at Kirk Kilisse opened the First Balkan War. Immediately after declaring war on 17 October, Bulgarian forces invaded Ottoman territory in Thrace. After turning back an ill-conceived spoiling offensive, the Bulgarians mounted a major attack before Turkish reinforcements could arrive from Anatolia. The ensuing fight on 22–24 October is known as the Battle of Kirk Kilisse or the Battle of Lozengrad. It involved a successful flanking operation against a 36-mile front stretching easterly from Lozengrad to Adrianople.

Retreating Turkish Infantry
During the battles around Lozengrad, Bulgarian infantry were supported by artillery and often attacked in poor light, at dawn, or even at night. The Ottomans were unable to withstand the Bulgarian charges, which were supported by artillery and machine gun fire, and by 24 October were in an ill-disciplined retreat all along the line between Adrianople and Lozengrad. Six days into the war the Bulgarians had won a major victory and the Ottoman forces had suffered a strategic and demoralizing defeat.

After the victory, the French minister of war, Alexandre Millerand, stated that the Bulgarian Army was the best in Europe and that he would prefer 100,000 Bulgarians for allies than any other European army. During the two Balkan Wars, Ottoman and Bulgarian forces would face off in 11 battles. The Bulgarians would decisively win nine, while two were indecisive. Nevertheless, a French-led coalition would sweep away the exhausted and abandoned. Bulgarian Army in the last days of  the Great War on the Balkan Front.

Source:  A War Photographer in Thrace by Herbert Baldwin

Friday, November 15, 2019

How Did Your Community Deal with the Great War

A lot of work was done about the American homefront leading up to and during the recent Centennial commemoration. Some publishers turned out WWI titles focusing on states, regions, towns, and military installations. Here I'd like to single out just one publishing collaboration: Arcadia Publishing and The History Press headquartered in Charleston, South Carolina. Together they are the largest and most comprehensive publishers of local and regional books in the United States with a library of more than 12,000 titles. The two imprints publish a combined 900 books each year. Their full collection can be searched at:

Click on Images to Enlarge

Here are examples of two categories of their superbly illustrated World War I monographs. The first image above shows their great selection on the training camps built for the Doughboys and were later used for WWII's GIs. While the authors take different approaches, they all cover the building of the camps, the sudden impact of tens of thousands of young men arriving in the area, and details about the particular units that trained on the bases.

This second set below shows some of their volumes on how states, sections, and towns experienced the war. You own local library or historical society may already have published similar works on your area.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

SMS Königsberg's Last Fight at Rufiji Delta

SMS Königsberg at Dar es Salaam

SMS Königsberg was the lead ship of her class of light cruisers built by the Imperial German Navy and was launched in December 1905. In April 1914 Fregattenkapitän Max Looff took command and the ship was sent on what was to have been a two-year deployment to German East Africa, but this was interrupted by the outbreak of World War I in August of that year.

Königsberg initially attempted to raid British and French commercial traffic in the region but  destroyed only one merchant ship in the course of her career. Coal shortages hampered her ability to attack shipping. On 20 September 1914 she surprised and sank the British cruiser HMS Pegasus in the Battle of Zanzibar. She then retreated into the Rufiji River to repair her engines.

The Trapped Königsberg Engaging the Monitors

During this time, the British reinforced the ships tasked with tracking down the elusive German raider and placed the ships under the command of Captain Sidney R. Drury-Lowe. On 19 October the cruiser Chatham found the German East Africa Line ship Präsident at Lindi. A boarding party searched the ship and discovered documents indicating she had supplied Königsberg with coal the previous month. On 30 October the cruiser Dartmouth located Königsberg and Somalia in the delta. Chatham, Dartmouth, and Weymouth blockaded the Rufiji Delta to ensure Königsberg could not escape. However, the shallow draft of the river also ensured that large Royal Naval ships could not get within firing range of the Königsberg.

Königsberg Scuttled

After several attempts to sink the ship including bringing in an obsolete battleship to attempt to reach the cruiser with longer range guns, the British sent two monitors, Mersey and Severn, to destroy the German cruiser. They were driven off, however, in a three-hour fight on 6 July. On the 11th, the two monitors got close enough to severely damage Königsberg, forcing her crew to scuttle the ship. The surviving crew salvaged all ten of her main guns and joined Lieutenant Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck's guerrilla campaign. The 10.5cm guns played especially prominent roles for the Germans for the rest of the war, acting as the theater's heaviest field artillery, used in harbor fortifications, and even remounted on the converted ferry Gützen, the German "capital ship" of the inland Lake Tanganyika fleet. The rusting remains of the wreck disappeared into the river bed in 1966.

Source: World Heritage Encyclopedia