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

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Jutland's Shadow Over the Royal Navy

Selections from:  "Emerging from the Shadow of Jutland,"  Corbett Paper #18 
Rear Admiral James Goldrick, Royal Australian Navy, Ret.

Queen Mary Exploding at Jutland

The Royal Navy mourned over Jutland. Whatever the pride felt from individual actions during the engagements, or from the realization that the Grand Fleet’s strategic advantage had been fully confirmed through its effective possession of the North Sea after the enemy had fled, at every level the legacy of the battle was "never again." There was regret for tactical and material failures and the catastrophic losses they caused, regret for the deficiencies of reporting and communications, and, above all, an even deeper regret for the absence of enterprise and initiative on the part of so many who should have known better. . .it is also clear that the Royal Navy between 1916 and 1939 functioned in relation to the battle as a "learning organization’"and consciously so. While there was attention to the mechanics, what may have proved even more important—and much more valuable between 1939 and 1945—was the accompanying focus on restoring the spirit of the tactical offensive.

To suggest that the command and control of the fleet moved to a looser and more flexible regime, particularly after Beatty took over as C-in-C from Jellicoe in November 1916, would be to over-simplify what happened. Many of the practical problems remained and had to be endured. The action seems to have confirmed that the battle fleet was too big—Jellicoe himself had decided that 16 units was the maximum practicable for one man to command.  A 24-ship line six miles long was certainly too extended for the limited visibility of the North Sea and not much better elsewhere. But, given the forces available on either side, the battle fleets of the First World War would always be larger than tactically desirable because a smaller formation was always at risk of being overwhelmed. Arguably, the Washington Naval Disarmament Treaty of 1922 may have been settled in part by recognition of the ideal size for a battle fleet.

There was certainly a new emphasis on squadron and divisional tactics and a greater understanding that subordinate flag officers needed the authority to respond individually to an emerging situation. But it is notable that the drive within squadrons and divisions was to an even greater degree of coordinated maneuver, not less. The reason for this was that concentration of fire became the new focus of gunnery innovation, first with two ships and then with up to four as a single gunnery "unit." Much effort was devoted to developing the new techniques and proving both the system and the required components of spotting, communications (special wireless sets were rapidly produced and distributed to the capital ships) and information exchange to allow effective control of fire.

Night fighting was the subject of new attention, with the realization that the uncertainty of combat in the darkness could only be mitigated by the systematic development and equally systematic practice of procedures and tactics that were understood by all. Before Jutland, the Grand Fleet’s purely reactive attitude to action in the dark, and the doctrine and training which resulted, had been based on the assessment that a night encounter with no warning in the open sea was a practical impossibility. This was because detection and counter-detection ranges were severely limited, even on the clearest of moonlit nights. It had been demonstrated time and again during the prewar Grand Maneuvers that torpedo craft dispatched to attack the opposition at night rarely succeeded in finding them.  At least part of the German interest and expertise in night fighting derived from their earlier expectation that they would be fighting defensively in the Heligoland Bight, with limited sea room and a very clear idea of their own position—as well as that of other friendly forces. However, given the extent to which Jellicoe had worked out the realities of a likely encounter with the High Seas Fleet in the conditions which prevailed in the North Sea and the speed-time-distance factors involved, it is surprising that he and others had not also realized before Jutland that a major fleet encounter that started after noon would inevitably involve night action, particularly when it was not high summer. After June 1916, the Grand Fleet understood this.

However, there was more to this process than greater control and precision. There was also the slow regeneration of a spirit of enterprise. There were several causes for its frequent absence on 31 May and 1 June. The Navy’s culture of obedience to the senior officer present was one, particularly as the full implications of the "virtual unreality" created by the assumption that radio contact equated to such presence had not been worked through. Nevertheless, Jellicoe must bear a considerable part of the blame for his subordinate’s apparent inability to exercise their initiative. Practically every piece of direction, instruction, and advice that he had issued as C-in-C between 1914 and 1916 was founded in good sense and a clear-eyed recognition of the operational realities, but it is undeniable that much was written in a way that could only dampen enthusiasm and erode élan.

HMS Warspite After the Battle

Some of the Jutland veterans, such as Tovey of the Onslow, earned immediate recognition for their bravery, but there were many others—only two First Sea Lords between 1916 and 1943 were not at Jutland (and one, Roger Backhouse, was commanding a light cruiser in the Harwich Force). The statistics for the other naval members of the Board of Admiralty are almost as telling. Many had their individual regrets about failures to act during the battle—Guy Royle, later to serve as Fifth Sea Lord and then head the Royal Australian Navy, always felt that he should have engaged the target that he saw at night from the control position of the battleship Marlborough rather than seeking permission from his captain. The latter assumed that the ship looming up in the darkness was friendly—but it was a German battle cruiser.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Germany's Artillery Trump Card in the Early War

Say what you will about Big Bertha or the French 75, one artillery weapon dominated the battlefield during the first half of the Great War.

A Battery of German 5.9-inch Howitzers on Prewar Maneuvers

In 1914, all Allied artillery weapons were outclassed by the German 5.9-inch howitzer,  the 15cm schwere Feldhaubitze 13. As the majority of these were guns, their flat trajectories severely curtailed their deployment in reverse slope positions. This resulted in the Allied gun positions being placed either on forward slopes in view of the enemy, or well to the rear, which hampered communication between observer and gun position and the range to which targets could be engaged.*

Krupp, Rheinmetall and Spandau factories manufactured 3,400 pieces during the war.  Each fired a 93-lb. shell up to 9,600 yards at a rate of 3 rounds per minute. The Allies did not field a comparable weapon until the British deployed their 6-inch howitzer in late 1915 and the French 155 Schneider appeared in 1917.

Siegfried Sassoon paid tribute to the German howitzer in his poem "Counter-Attack"

He wondered when the Allemands would get busy;
And then, of course, they started with five-nines
Traversing, sure as fate, and never a dud.
Mute in the clamour of shells he watched them burst
Spouting dark earth and wire with gusts from hell. . . 

* "The Changing Face of Australian Field Artillery in World War One," the Royal Australian Artillery History Company

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The War Against the Vets: The World War I Bonus Army During the Great Depression

By Jerome Tuccille
Potomac Books, 2018
Bryan Alexander, Reviewer

Bonus Marchers on Their Way to Washington

The aftermath of war rarely interests audiences so much as the conflict itself. The centennial of World War One is bearing this out, as most books, films, and stories in other media concern themselves with events up to November 1918. This lack of attention is a woeful mistake, since the impact of WWI reverberated around the world, transforming civilization and helping create our present day.

A case in point is how America treated its First World War veterans. As partial reward for their service Congress in 1924 offered each soldier a bonus, which could be redeemed in 1945 (20). However, the Great Depression hit in 1929, the economy fell apart, many veterans were rendered destitute, and some conceived the idea of getting their bonus right away. Perhaps inspired by Coxey's Army of unemployed men marching on Washington for economic relief in 1894 as well as Cox's similar 1932 march of the unemployed, individuals and groups started planning on taking their argument to the very seat of power.

In The War Against the Vets Jerome Tuccille narrates the story of how the veterans' campaign proceeded. Several attempts were made to bring veterans to Washington, culminating in an occupation of part of the capital area by nearly 40,000 people during the summer of 1932. Veterans and their families, sometimes called the Bonus Expeditionary Force in an echo of their Western Front designation, camped in and around the Anacostia area, demanding that Congress and the Hoover administration award them their bonuses. Congressman Wright Patman of Texas, one of Tuccille's few heroes, introduced a payment bill and lobbied for its success, while Hoover argued against it.

Tensions between the government and the vets grew, despite the best efforts of police superintendent Pelham Glassford, a WWI general and someone who genuinely sought to placate both vets and the government. Radical groups sought (and failed) to turn the vets into an insurgent, left-wing army; despite this, rumors and what we could call today fake news linking the bonus marchers to Moscow persists. Various veterans sought to lead the group, notably the vain and openly fascistic Walter Waters, who organized a would-be disciplinary unit called the Khaki Shirts. Waters struggled for supremacy with Royal Waterson, a navy vet who organized his own separate marches and events, but no single stable organization ever emerged (52, 67, 84, 91).

Meanwhile, rumors flew. Politicians and industrial titans publicly criticized the marchers, characterizing them variously as layabouts, criminals, and communist revolutionaries. For example, Pierre Du Pont dubbed the vets "the most favored class in the United States, having health, youth, and opportunity," while president Hoover claimed that "vets were likely to spend any money they received on 'wasteful expenditures'" (30, 33). Even the American Legion's leader turned against the BEF (50). Some in government feared the Bonus Army was a criminal and/or revolutionary group about to assault the White House. On Bastille Day vice president Curtis, suspecting a Bonus uprising, managed to station sixty Marines on the Capitol grounds (94).

U.S. Army Tanks and Cavalry Move on the Marchers

In July 1932 President Hoover, proclaiming the Bonus Army to be a communist insurgency, ordered the vets expelled from the capital area, while Glassford and Waters were negotiating for a peaceful withdrawal. A military force led by veteran Douglas MacArthur and including cavalry, infantry, tanks, and one George S. Patton (another WWI veteran) attacked the Bonus Army, killing several, wounding more, and setting the area ablaze. In a foreshadowing of his Korean career, MacArthur repeatedly disobeyed orders from commander in chief Hoover to pause his attack; instead, the general finished what Tuccille calls "a blitzkrieg" according to his own strategy.

The attack proved unpopular with both Washingtonians and Americans at large, contributing to Hoover's reelection defeat the following November. His successor, Franklin Roosevelt, pursued a different strategy. Like Hoover, FDR consistently opposed paying the veterans their bonus, but he was better at handling both the marchers and public relations. He asked Eleanor Roosevelt to meet with the vets and their families, defusing some tensions, and leading one participant to famously observe that "Hoover sent the Army, [while] Roosevelt sent his wife." (139) He arranged for better quarters and soup kitchens for vets who remained in the Washington area.

The War Against the Vets doesn't end with MacArthur's assault and FDR's election. Instead, Tuccille follows the veterans as they scattered across the United States. Many were resettled by the Roosevelt administration into various types of work camps, including the nascent Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration (138, 144). One camp in the Florida Keys was nearly wiped out by a hurricane in 1935, killing 259 veterans; official negligence magnified the number of deaths, then covered up the event. Meanwhile, Representative Patman kept reintroducing bonus payment bills and lobbying for their passage. By 1936 supporters of paying the bonus managed to win large enough Congressional majorities in both the House and Senate to override FDR's veto, leading to a $2 billion payout in the Adjusted Compensation Payment Act.

Tuccille links the Bonus Army's saga to subsequent history by pointing out successive administrations' desire to not experience a similar debacle. Instead World World II led to the GI Bill, and later wars saw their veterans much more fully rewarded for their service than the soldiers of the First World War.

The War Against the Vets is a clearly and passionately written account. Tuccille writes with a keen eye for character and a fiery sense of justice. The book is a welcome addition to any library dedicated to America in World War I.

Bryan Alexander

Monday, February 18, 2019

The Canadian Conscription Crisis of 1917

Canadian Recruiting Poster

Canada's federal government decided in 1917 to conscript young men for overseas military service. Voluntary recruitment was failing to maintain troop numbers, and Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden believed in the military value, and potential postwar influence, of a strong Canadian contribution to the war.

The 1917 conscription debate was one of the fiercest and most divisive in Canadian political history. French-Canadians, as well as many farmers, unionized workers, non-British immigrants, and other Canadians, generally opposed the measure. English-speaking Canadians, led by Prime Minister Borden and senior members of his Cabinet, as well as British immigrants, the families of soldiers, and older Canadians, generally supported it.

The conscription debate echoed public divisions on many other contemporary issues, including language education, agriculture, religion, and the political rights of women and immigrants. It also grew into a test of one’s support for, or opposition to, the war as a whole. Charges of disloyalty, cowardice, and immorality from avid pro-conscription advocates were matched by cries of imperialism, stupidity, and blood-lust by the anti-conscription camp.

The campaign’s viciousness sometimes obscured the debate’s complexity. Many anti-conscription advocates fully supported the war, for example, while not all pro-conscription voices argued their case by using linguistic or racial smears to diminish their opponents.

A Vote Against

The conscription debate raged through most of 1917 and into 1918. The required legislation, the Military Service Act, worked its way through Parliament during the summer to be passed in late August. It made all male citizens between the ages of 20 and 45 subject to military service, if called, for the duration of the war.

Conscription was the main issue in the federal election that followed in December, a bitter contest between Conservative/Unionist Sir Robert Borden and Liberal Sir Wilfrid Laurier. Borden, running on a "Unionist" pro-conscription ticket that attracted many English-speaking Liberals, won decisively but lost heavily in Francophone areas of Quebec.

The government had helped pave the way for electoral victory with legislation in the fall that enfranchised likely allies and disenfranchised likely opponents.

The Wartime Elections Act gave the vote to the wives, mothers, and sisters of soldiers, the first women permitted to vote in Canadian federal elections. These groups tended to favor conscription because it supported their men in the field.

A Soldier Votes in the 1917 Election

The act then denied the vote to many recent immigrants from enemy countries (“enemy aliens”), unless they had a family member in military service. At the same time, the Military Voters Act extended the vote to all military personnel and nurses, including women, regardless of their period of residence in Canada.

Borden’s margin of victory in December was greater than the votes delivered by either of these controversial measures, but each had been highly successful. More than 90 percent of military votes, for example, were Unionist.

A broadly popular but divisive measure, conscription polarized provinces, ethnic and linguistic groups, communities, and families, and had lasting political effects on the country as a whole. For many Canadians, it was an important and necessary contribution to a faltering war effort; for others, it was an oppressive act passed dishonestly by a government more British than Canadian.

Farmers sought agricultural exemptions from compulsory service until the end of the war. Borden’s government, anxious for farmers’ votes, agreed to limited exemptions, largely for farmers’ laboring sons, but broke the promise after the election. The bitterness among farmers, many of them in the West, led to the development of new federal and provincial parties.

French-speaking Canadians continued their protests as well, and young men by the tens of thousands joined others from across Canada in refusing to register for the selection process. Of those that did register, 93 percent applied for an exemption. An effort to arrest suspected draft dodgers was highly unpopular across the province and, at its worst, resulted in several days of rioting and street battles in Quebec City at Easter, 1918. The violence left four civilians dead and dozens injured, and shocked supporters on both sides.

Conscription Enforced

Conscription would have minimal impact on Canada’s war effort. By the Armistice in November 1918, only 48,000 conscripts had been sent overseas, half of which ultimately served at the front. More than 50,000 more conscripts remained in Canada. These would have been required had the war continued into 1919.

Source: Website of the Canadian War Museum

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Map Series #2: A Handy U.S.-Oriented 1918 Map

Click on Map to Enlarge

This map is from a U.S. Marine Corps publication "Reducing the St. Mihiel Salient" that can be downloaded HERE.
It was created by Marine cartographer Lt. Col. R. L. Cody, USMC (Ret)

Its focus is on the 4th Marine Brigade of the AEF's 2nd "Indianhead" Division, which was one of the most active of General Pershing's formations. They fought in all the major operations, except in Flanders and the Somme, so the map gives a lot of details in that regard. However, it is especially "handy" for a lot of the additional information Col Cody included in the map. Not including the information specific to the 4th Brigade or 2nd Division, it shows:
  • The major ports of the AEF
  • General and Services of Supply Headquarters
  • Coblenz, Center  and Headquarters of U.S Occupation Forces
  • Main rail supply lines
  • Allied Advance and Armistice Lines for 1918

Friday, February 15, 2019

Recommended: For Connoisseurs of Tank Warfare: The British Mark I Vs. a 21st Century Tank

A couple of caveats for readers—

1.  This seven-page article which is a PDF format discussed the nitty-gritty details of tank design and operation, including the propulsion system, armor, weaponry, and operational issues, then and now.

2.  The 21st-century tank is the recently developed Turkish Altay Main Battle Tank produced by the Turkish controlled BMC company with technical input by Hyundai of South Korea.

Nevertheless, if you love tanks, this article will give you a great ride in explaining how tanks and tank warfare have evolved over the past century and how many things are still the same.

Download the article HERE:

Thursday, February 14, 2019

A Unique Centennial Armistice Commemoration in the U.K.

Portraits of soldiers who died in World War One were etched into the sands of  32 UK beaches last 11 November  and the result was  stunning. The portraits were titled “Pages of the Sea,” an idea that was conceived by Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle. 

The beaches from Cornwall to the Shetland Isles commemorated specific individuals that fought in the war. Some are of well-know figures like the war poet, Wilfred Owen, others are of lesser-known local individuals who perished in the war. People gathered together early on Sunday morning to create the images, using a stencil and a rake to create the images.  

“In the first World War, everybody left from the beaches and the harbors because there was no plane transport of any significance then,” Boyle told the BBC. “So this will have been their last sight of home—and for many of them, of course, it was their last sight of home.”

He continued, “I thought, ‘What a wonderful way to reconnect with them.'”

Boyle said the images  were made by volunteers who were given stencils and rakes to shape the larger-than-life portraits.

“We make a temporary portrait which is a reminder of your own and their mortality,” he said. “But it’s also a way that a community can gather in a public space…and we can come here and celebrate, in a way.”

Boyle said standing in the midst of the portraits also gave room for quiet reflection.  At each of the beaches to mood turned somber as the afternoon tides arrived.

“There was a wonderful silence with just the noise of the tide beginning to pour in and cover the portraits,” he said. “It was very, very moving.”

People who experienced the exhibit in person posted photos to Instagram and shared their thoughts, many of them paying tribute to certain soldiers by sharing their names and bits of their stories. 

List of all individuals commemorated can be found HERE.

Compiled from UK News Reports

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Unusual Goodbye Letter of Lt. Hart Leech, CEF

The following letter was written on 13 Sept. 1916 by Canadian soldier Hart Leech from Winnipeg shortly before he died in battle. It was lost in his belongings when he died and wasn’t read by his mother until 12 years later in 1928. Leech served as a lieutenant in the  61st Battalion. Along with being recognized for his military skills, he was known for his baritone singing voice.  He was lost in action two days after this letter was written in the Battle of the Somme and is commemorated on the Vimy Ridge Memorial

Dear Mother

Just a wee note. I am "going over the parapet", and the chances of a "sub" getting back alive are abut nix. If I do get back, why you can give me the horse laugh. If not this'll let you know that I kicked out with my boots on.

So, cheer up, old dear, and don't let the newspapers use you as material for a Saturday magazine feature. You know the kind: where the "sweet-faced, grey-haired, little mother, clutching the last letter from her boy to her breast, sobbed, “’He was such a fine lad,' as she furtively brushed the glistening tears from her eyes with a dish rag, etc. etc."

I’m going to tell you this in case my company commander forgets. Your son is a soldier, and a dog-gone good one, too, if he does say it himself as shouldn't. And if he gets pipped it'll be doing his blooming job. 

In a way it's darned funny. All the gang are writing post-mortem letters and kind of half ashamed of themselves for doing it. As one of our officers said: "If I mail it and come through the show, I'll be a joke. If I tear it up and get killed I'll be sorry I didn't send it." S'there y'are...

Source: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Website

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Shadowboxing the Apocalypse: The WWI Correspondence of Dr. Theo Hascall, 103rd F.A. 26th Yankee Division

By Dr. Theo Hascall Foreword by Shawn A. Pease
Publisher:, 2018
Terrence J. Finnegan, Reviewer

Dr Theo Hascall, a Rhode Island native who served in the Yankee Division in World War I, was a prolific letter writer to his wife. The testimony of their relationship was the deeply felt syntax covering their experiences during this tumultuous event in history. Dr Hascall was one of several medical doctors within the 103rd Field Artillery, 26th Yankee Division.

155mm Artillery Piece and Crew from the 103rd FA

Shawn Pease has launched a labor of love by transcribing Dr Hascall's story in a voluminous text of 156 letters containing as much detail as a self-censored letter could allow. The book provides limited background to Dr Hascall's location with brief discussion of the battles being fought from February 1918 at the Chemin des Dames to the Armistice. Shawn Pease and his friends at the Rhode Island Philatelic Society should be congratulated for getting a primary source published through vanity press. It provides a glimpse into deployed lifestyle at the battlegrounds in contrast to the domestic world that his wife experienced.

The value of this work falls into the category of curiosity about an individual's experience. Hascall mentions influenza on 9 June 1918 with "Everybody around here has been having a '3 day feaver'–quite an epidemic." Detailed correspondence briefly mentions some figures such as Chaplain (Lieutenant) William J. Farrell, who earned the Distinguish Service Cross at Seicheprey on 20 April 1918. The two were friends and shared a room—to include a rat that slept one night in the bed—"he gave a slap and this huge thing jumped out." 

He describes an interesting German tactic employing captured French aeroplanes. On 25 July eight planes flew over the front lines and shot down two U.S. captive balloons. "How the anti-aircraft guns and machine guns got after them!"

On 23 June Lieutenant Hascall wrote "No word about promotions for the Medical Lieutenants of this Division yet. Guess we're out of luck." On 10 November 1918, Lieutenant Hascall received word that he had been promoted to captain. Apparently 30 lieutenants from the Medical Corps serving in the 26th Division were promoted on 30 September but didn't receive word until the day before the Armistice.

My own intent was to find any mention of the Sanitary Detachment members or memorable experiences related to the Medical Corps. In my case, the story had particular interest because in the latter months of the war my grandfather, Private 1st Class Cyril Finnegan, was a medic serving the 103rd Field Artillery and working for Lieutenant Doherty. For what it's worth, on 26 July he writes, "Talk about your traveling circuses. This is a regular 'off again on again Finnegan' sort of life." I wonder if he shared that with my grandfather.

The most disappointing feature of Shadowboxing the Apocalypse is the lack of relevant sources to further relate each event. The primary reference employed is The War Story of C Battery, One Hundred and Third U.S. Field Artillery, France 1917–1919 by Henry T. Samson and George C. Hull. To my amazement no mention is made of the primary source on the unit in World War I—History of the 103rd Field Artillery (Twenty-Sixth Division, A.E.F.) by W.F. Kernan and Henry T. Samson. Not only is there more detail associated with the 103rd Field Artillery contained in the latter source, some exceptional maps are included which would have provided the reader greater appreciation of the unit's service throughout 1918 along with the places where Dr Hascall served.

The Centennial released the floodgates of a lot of personal accounts such as Shadowboxing the Apocalypse (although the title is worth noting as being attributed to a Grateful Dead song). The casual reader will applaud the work for relating to the human experience of the time.

Terrence J. Finnegan

[Editor's Note: We previously published a letter from this collection on Roads to the Great War that described the aftermath of the St. Mihiel Offensive.  It can be visited HERE.]  

Monday, February 11, 2019

Not Fit for War: Austria-Hungary's Economy

Skoda Armaments Factory in Pilsen

By Max-Stephan Schulze

I think we will all die of hunger before a bullet gets us… Ah dear mother, our dog is better fed than I am here. In the cabbage there are worms… we have to live and fight like this.
Polish Soldier, 10th Austro-Hungarian Army, on the Italian Front

Austria-Hungary’s war economy can be summarized as follows. First, the war effort was sustained into 1918 on the basis of a rapidly decreasing resource base. Constrained by scarcity of input materials and cumulative labor shortages, aggregate output fell continuously over the course of the war. Moreover, the share of war expenditure in real GDP fell from an initial peak of 30 percent (1914/15) to about 17 percent in 1917/18. Hence the scale of mobilization, both in absolute terms and relative to the size of the economy, was small to that achieved in major belligerent economies such as the United Kingdom and Germany. 

Second, the Allied blockade worked and its impact was augmented by a serious lack of foreign exchange: Austria-Hungary’s foreign trade was far too limited to reduce significantly the shortage of essential war materials and foodstuffs. 

Flour for Sale, Vienna, 1915

Third, the Empire’s complex macro-political structure, a legacy of the 1867 constitutional compromise between Austria and Hungary, undermined the efficiency and effectiveness of intra-empire resource allocation and utilization. 

Fourth, a small domestic capital market proved incapable of sustaining wartime borrowing at high levels. After a short-lived rise in the initial stages of the war, the debt/GDP ratio remained just above peacetime levels. To the extent that Austria-Hungary did fight the war on the cheap, that was not an outcome of choice, but of necessity in light of inadequate resources.

Budapest Tram, 1918, Used To Transport Food — By War's End the Transportation System of the Empire Was Approaching Collapse

Finally, the persistent and widespread food scarcity and resultant physical exhaustion of both civilian population and the armed forces was a key factor in bringing about the collapse of the Habsburg Empire.

Source: Max-Stephan Schulze, "Austria-Hungary’s Economy in World War I" in Stephen Broadberry and Mark Harrison (eds.), The Economics of World War I, Cambridge: Cambridge University, 2009

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Wound or Physiologic Shock and the Great War

[By 1838 British surgeon Astley Cooper reported] that many wounded soldiers died without significant loss of blood, severe pain, or serious injury. Surgeons “were in the habit of saying men died of shock.” Shock was completely separated from hemorrhage. It was recognized that soldiers could bleed to death, but if there was little obvious hemorrhage, then death was attributed to “shock,” a mysterious and indefinable death.

Early Blood Transfusion Procedure in Canada, 1918(?)

In 1952 the U.S. Army reviewed how the the problem of shock had been dealt with during the two World Wars. 

Although warriors have died of their wounds from the beginning of time, the first scientific approach to an analysis of how and why they die was made during World War I. In that war the wound surgeon lifted his eyes from the shattered limb to inquire with some degree of precision about the nature of the processes that a wound may initiate in the body as a whole. Because, even if the limb were amputated and every organ of the body was sound, death was likely to occur as the terminal event of a profound disturbance known as wound shock.

World War I revealed wound shock as a complex problem. Its nature was not solved nor were sufficient observational data accumulated to permit clear identification and subsequent analysis. Certain pre-existing hypotheses (vasomotor exhaustion, acapnia, adrenal exhaustion) were discredited, but other concepts inadequately supported by facts (traumatic toxemia, the distinction between shock and hemorrhage) were substituted. These concepts centered on wound shock as an entity not accounted for by hemorrhage, infection, brain injury, blast, asphyxia of cardio-respiratory origin, fat embolism, or any other clearly demonstrable lethal effect of trauma. World War I thus recognized a problem of shock but left it wrapped in mystery.

Dr. Walter Cannon of Harvard University served in a Casualty Clearing Station and Research Laboratory during the war.  He would be called on to help lead U.S. research on wound shock in the Second World War.

...At the end of World War I the so-called shock problem was transferred to the experimental laboratories of medical science. Attempts were made to resolve it by physiologic and chemical techniques under a wide variety of experimentally induced circumstances. As the methods of initiating experimental shock were multiplied, the term itself became broadened, so that it  included a number of processes that appeared to have one feature in common—a reduced effective volume flow of blood with inadequacy of the peripheral circulation and resulting tissue asphyxia. In the clinic as well as the laboratory, shock became separated from wounds, and "medical shock," "obstetrical shock," "burn shock," "shock due to infection," and other types were described as entities.

In 2004, army Brigadier General Robert Hardaway wrote of the state of understanding of  physiologic shock in the 21st century and the importance of the WWI experience:

Battlefield Transfusion in Italy During WWII

World War I showed the need for blood in the treatment of “wound shock,” a lesson that had to be relearned in World War II through bitter experience. Studies in the Korean War described the concept of disseminated intravascular coagulation [abnormal clumps of thickened blood (clots) forming inside blood vessels]. These abnormal clots use up the blood's clotting factors, which can lead to massive bleeding in other places and multiple organ failure, and the existence of disseminated intravascular coagulation was confirmed by studies in Vietnam. The treatment of hemorrhagic shock is now very effective, but the treatment of traumatic and septic shock remains unsatisfactory.

Also see our Roads article by James Patton, "Blood Banks Began in WWI."
"Blood Transfusion in the First World War" from the Kansas University Medical Center

Sources: "The Physiologic Effects of Wounds," U.S. Army Office of Medical History; "Wound Shock: A History of Its Study and Treatment by Military Surgeons," BG Robert Hardaway, MC,US Army, Military Medicine, 2004

Saturday, February 9, 2019

A Roads Classic—Doomed Fleet: The Dreadnoughts of the Austro-Hungarian Navy

While Great Britain and Germany were engaged in their own battleship building race before the war broke out, Triple Alliance partners Austria-Hungary and Italy were engaged in a similar, although smaller-scale, competition in the Adriatic. Austria-Hungary invested enormous sums in four dreadnoughts, all of which would meet ignominious fates.

The Four Dreadnoughts in Harbor at Pola

The Tegetthoff-class (sometimes erroneously named the Viribus Unitis-class) was their sole class of dreadnought battleship. Four ships were built, Viribus Unitis, Tegetthoff, Prinz Eugen, and Szent István. Three of the four were laid down in Trieste, with Szent Istvan being built at Rijeka, to incorporate both parts of the Dual Monarchy into the construction of the ships. The smaller size of the shipyards in Rijeka meant that Szent István was built three years after her sisters, with slightly different characteristics.  The four dreadnoughts generally had a top speed of 20 knots and carried 12 12-inch guns in triple turrets as their main armament. The first three ships, Viribus Unitis, Tegetthoff, and Prinz Eugen, were joined by their sister in 1915, when they bombarded the Italian installations at Ancona. Thereafter, they were kept in port at Pola as a fleet in-being until an ill-fated raid in 1918 on the Otranto Barrage at the entry to the Adriatic near the boot heel of Italy.

SMS Tegetthoff (named after a victorious 19th-century Austrian admiral) survived the Otranto Barrage raid and  the war. After the Armistice, Tegetthoff was surrendered to Italy and later scrapped in 1924.

SMS Prinz Eugen had supported the escape of SMS Goeben and SMS Breslau early in the war as well as joining the bombardment of Ancona. Following the end of the war in late 1918, Prinz Eugen was surrendered to France, disarmed,  and later sunk as a target ship in 1922.

SMS Szent Istvan (King Stephen I of Hungary),  left port to participate in the raid on Otranto in June 1918. Two Italian anti-submarine motor boats—Mas.15 and Mas.21—happened to be out in the northern Adriatic, and both quickly singled out a battleship and attacked. Mas.15  hit the Szent Istvan amidships with two torpedoes at 0330 hrs on 10 June.  The ship  rolled over and sank at 0600 hrs with 89 men lost. Mas.21 missed the Tegetthoff, but both Italian boats escaped and the Austrian operation against the Otranto Barrage was called off. The sinking of Szent Istvan was filmed and shows up frequently in World War I documentaries.

SMS Viribus Unitis ('"United Forces")—With the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the state of Yugoslavia was formed by the southern Slavs and declared on the side of the Allies. Viribus Unitis was taken over on 31 October by the Yugoslav National Council as flagship of the new navy. Apparently ignoring the new political situation, the Italians went ahead with a planned attack on Pola. Early in the morning of 1 November and with few defensive precautions now being taken, two Italian frogmen, Major of Naval Engineers Raffaele Rossetti and Doctor Lt. Raffaele Paolucci, slipped into the naval base and attached mines to the dreadnought and liner Wien. Both ships sank, Viribus Unitis capsizing and going down around dawn. Several hundred men died including the new captain.

Sources: and Wikipedia

Friday, February 8, 2019

Le Courrier de l'Air

By Edward Heron-Allenby
Republished at

Le Courrier de l'Air was an airdropped leaflet newspaper for occupied France and Belgium. Printed in London, it was dropped over the First World War Western Front by free-floating paper balloons. Courrier was the production of a branch of Military Intelligence known as MI7b and from May 1918 edited by Edward Heron-Allen. Here follows a report written by Heron-Allen in November 1918 giving the production history of Courrier He had joined the staff of the War Office on Tuesday 13 May 1918, as assistant editor of Le Courrier de l'Air. The same title would be resurrected for a new airdropped newspaper in the Second World War.

Le Courrier de l'Air was, as its title denotes, a propaganda paper, planned by Captain (Dr.) Chalmers Mitchell, D.Sc., F.R.S., O.B.E., to be distributed over the parts of France occupied by the Germans, and over Belgium, with a view to giving the inhabitants of these areas accurate news of the progress of the war, from the point of view of the Allies of the Entente. In addition to this it contained extracts from German Papers which were suppressed by the government when they contained matters reflecting upon adverse conditions in Germany and accounts of German defeats and losses. The average number of copies distributed weekly was 5000.

Balloons used to drop propaganda leaflets over the First World War front lines.
The papers were distributed by hydrogen balloons, which were sent up from our side of the fighting lines whenever the direction of the wind was favourable. It was threaded in bundles of a hundred upon a silk paper-fastener, which was passed through a 20-inch length of tinder yarn, such as is used for lighting cigars and cigarettes, at intervals of about three inches. The tinder was strengthened and supported by a strong wire running through it, by which the whole mass of bundles—called a "release"—was firmly twisted on to the neck of the paper hydrogen balloon. Prior to letting it go the tinder was lit at the top and as the "smoulder" reached each paper-fastener, it burnt it away and a bundle of the papers flew away, falling all over the country. Each balloon carried about 15 lbs. of papers, in all about 2000 copies, and it took from 20 minutes to half an hour to distribute its load. A complete set of photographs showing the process has been taken by the Official Photographers to the English Army and may be bought at their sales Dept in London.

Launching a Balloon
I joined the Staff of the War Office, in the M.I.7.b.4. Department of the Ministry of Intelligence in May 1918, as Assistant Editor of the Courrier my colleague in the editorship under Captain Chalmers Mitchell being Captain the Hon. R.W.D. Legh.* On the translation of Captain Mitchell to the Crewe House Branch of the Ministry of Intelligence I became sole Editor, attached to M.I.7.b.l., under Major C.J. Street and was responsible for the paper until the last number, No.78, the signing of the Armistice on the 11th November 1918, rendering the further publication and distribution of Propaganda Literature in the Occupied Territories unnecessary.

In one of the M.S. notes in this volume I have described the papers which I read daily to make extracts for the Courrier. These extracts were, when further selected and weeded out by me, submitted to Capt. Mitchell, Major Street or his second in command Capt. Allen, to advise as to which seemed to be the most suitable, and the final selections being made, those extracts which were from French papers were sent to the Avenue Press in Drury Lane to be set up in print, and those which were in English were sent to Miss Marcelle Ducros, the Official Translator to the Department, to be translated into French, and when she returned them they were likewise sent to the printers.

I made a point of always having about four "galleys" of matter standing in type to select from and I classified them under the following heads:

1. Current and Historical—matter relating to, or commenting upon recent events which had to be used before they became ancient history or out of date.

2. Permanent and Academic—matter relating to affairs and general conditions in Germany, criticisms from German papers, and general articles upon the war activities of the Allies, which were good for use at any time.

3. Humorous and Abusive—comic, scurrilous, or scandalous stories about the Germans, revealing their weaknesses or immoralities, and making fun of their Institutions and war regulations.

4. Leading articles on matters of current importance, taken from the leading papers, or written by myself.

Every Thursday I made up the Back Page of the next week's Courrier from the matter I had standing in type, pasting the paragraphs on the back of an old number. This went to the printers, with the duplicate corrected proofs attached, with instructions for its return revised in page form by the following Monday.

On Monday morning this came back, and at the same time I received from M.I.7.b.l. the "Weekly Resume" of Military Operations, which had been passed by the Censors of the Press. This I "edited" cutting out all mere "literary matter" and events on the Salonika, Bulgarian, or Palestine Fronts, which would be of no interest, excepting on very broad lines, to the Belgians and French. Thus "cut" it went to Miss Ducros to be translated.

On Tuesday afternoon Miss Ducros came to Adastral House, with the translation. I then wrote—if necessary—the "Derniere Heure" paragraph, relating any important events that had occurred since the previous Friday when the "Weekly Resume" is completed, and Miss Ducros translated it in the Office. At 5 p.m. the leading Article, the Resume "Sur le Front Occidental," the "Derniere Heure," and any current paragraphs to fill up the front page went to the printers.

On Wednesday morning this came back in proof-slips, and whilst the messenger waited I "made up" the Front Page, and returned it for "revise" by the messenger. Any time after two o'clock on Wednesday I went to the printers in Drury Lane and "passed" the Front and Back Pages finally for press, after which I did not see the paper again until my sheaf of "file" copies was delivered in my room at Adastral House on Thursday afternoon.

The copies for distribution were sent direct from the printers to Woolwich, where they were made up into bundles on "releases" as above described and sent over to the Censorship and Publicity Section at General Head Quarters, near Montreuil in France. From here they were sent by motor lorry to the sections operating on the French and Belgian Fronts, under the direction of Captain Hazledine, who was our head representative at G.H.Q., and sent over the lines as described.

Of the effect of this Aerial Propaganda, not only the Courrier but the mass of German leaflets sent over the lines on the southern fronts, there can be no question. The German papers for the last two months of the war have been full of fulminating complaints of our "poisoned arrows from the air" which have seriously damaged the "morale" of the German troops. I append a cutting from the Times of the 16th of September 1918 describing the "Courrier of the Air", and stating that at Ghent Major von Blucher had issued a proclamation threatening them with a fine of £150 or one year's imprisonment, or both, if they failed to hand over immediately any literature dropped by airmen in Belgium, and so lately as the 2nd of November last, an extract from the letter of a high German official, published in the Cologne Gazette, was published in all the London papers, which stated: "What caused the most damage was the 'paper' war waged by our enemies, who daily flooded us with some hundred thousand leaflets, extraordinarily arranged, and well edited." I need hardly say that this is a paragraph which afforded me the highest satisfaction.

Front pages of Le Courrier de l'Air

During the course of an Official visit to the Western Front in October last, I happened to visit Bruges two days after the Germans had evacuated the city. Several members of the College des Echevins whom I interviewed told me that the Courrier was eagerly looked out for, and sought for during the whole of the last year of the occupation, in spite of the fact that in the later months, the fine for being in possession of a copy had been increased to 10,000 marks, in addition to the one year's imprisonment. I was told that the first copy of each issue that fell into the hands of the Germans was translated and circulated to all the Commands, and that if any one were caught relating a story or piece of news from it, the source of his information was traced back from one person to another until they discovered who had originally picked up the Courrier and read it—and the punishment then followed.

No.78 was the last number of the Courrier de l'Air actually published. The back page of No. 79 was however prepared by Captain Ozanne, and set in to page form during the end of the week 7–9 November 1918. Peace being declared - or rather the Armistice being signed on the 11th—the Courrier became functus officio and when the Back Page proof of No. 79 was brought to me on the morning of the 12th of November, I notified the printers that the Courrier would not be published again and that the standing type would be distributed,or rather melted down, as it is all set by linotype.

A complete file of the Courrier is extraordinarily scarce—the system of filing papers at the Ministry of Intelligence leaves much to be desired, and I doubt whether the Department itself possesses a complete set—it took me four months assiduous search in London and in France before I succeeded in completing my own file and one which I designed for the Library of the British Museum.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Don't Miss February's ST. MIHIEL TRIP-WIRE

The February 2019 issue of the St. Mihiel Trip-Wire is now available at:

This month's issue contains material on such topics as:

  • Japan in the First World War
  • The Great War Video Channel
  • Admiral Tirpitz and Germany's Defeat
  • "The Stokes Gunners" by Ivor Gurney
  • Part II of Our Retrospective of the War
  • The USMC Commemorates Belleau Wood
  • Quentin Roosevelt
  • All Our Usual Features

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

10 Striking British Official First World War Photographs

Click on Images to Enlarge

Captured in the Last Push, 1917

"Strafing the Hun," 1917

Smoldering Ruins in Bapaume

The Former Thriving Village of Guillemont, Somme Battlefield

Howitzers Firing at the Somme, 1916

Interior, Arras Cathedral, 1917

Column of German Prisoners at the Somme, 1916

Two Wounded German Prisoners

Handling a Large Howitzer, 1917

Cover, First Issue of Illustrated War News, Wounded German Cavalrymen

Source:  British Official First  World War Photographs from the Collection of Prints at the Art Gallery of Ontario.