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

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Restoring the Cloth Hall

Cloth Hall, 1872


The greatest cultural destruction from the war in Flanders was in the leveling of Ypres. And the most visible treasure of the town was its immense medieval Cloth Hall, built in the 13th and 14th centuries. During the days when Ypres was a world leader in the textile industry it served as the market place, warehousing, and offices for what was then the cutting-edge new technology and source of wealth.

The southern wing of the hall had a magnificent facade, surmounted by a tall belfry in the center, its oldest element. The foundation stone for the belfry (and watchtower) was laid by Baudouin IX, Count of Flanders. Over the centuries the Hall was frequently restored and embellished and in 1914 held many irreplaceable artistic masterpieces, frescoes, murals, tapestries, and painting. Many of these would be lost forever during the Great War.

Reduced to Rubble and the Stub of the Belfry

In early November German artillery units drew close enough to begin shelling Ypres and a few random hits were made on the Cloth Hall itself. The southeastern section of the Hall, a less strongly built addition known as the Nieuwerk, constructed in the 17th century, was the first feature to fall. Struck by German artillery on 21 November 1914, its south gable was destroyed. The following day the Cloth Hall burst into flames, destroying its upper floors, and a few weeks later the Nieuwerk was completely destroyed. Over the next four years, shells relentlessly reduced the structure, although—oddly—just enough of the belfry survived so that the Tommies marching through the town always recognized the ruins.

With the necessity to focus on rebuilding the necessary infrastructure of Ypres, it took a full decade after the Armistice to initiate restoration of the Cloth Hall. Funding, local redevelopment priorities, architectural purity–would the design match the original or would contemporary styles be incorporated in the design–were all areas of great contention. The strategy to try to match the look and quality of the pre-1914 structure mostly prevailed and construction finally began in 1933 on the belfry. Eventually, despite the slow precise craftsmanship involved and the coming of another war that saw the town occupied by the enemy for five years, the project carried forward. The rebuilt Cloth Hall was dedicated in 1967, by my one-time acquaintance King Baudouin, grandson of Albert I, Belgium's greatest hero of the war.

The Cloth Hall Gloriously Restored

Today, the Cloth Hall is once again one of the world's cultural treasures and a premier tourist destination. It holds the town council and tourism offices, but most notably, the In Flanders Fields Museum, which our readers surely know, is one of the finest military museums anywhere and an unforgettable experience for visitors.

Sources: Michelin Ypres & the Battles of Ypres and Major and Mrs. Holt Ypres Salient Guides

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Master of Musketry: Brigadier Norman Reginald McMahon (1866–1914)


 Norman Reginald McMahon

Remember the accounts you've read of the Battle of Mons that stated the British rifle fire that day was so rapid the German soldiers thought they were facing machine guns?  Well, here's the man behind that legend. Norman McMahon was born in London on 24 Jan 1866, the son of Sir Thomas Westropp McMahon and Sir Thomas's second wife, Frances. Known as the Musketry Maniac, Norman McMahon, commanded the 4th Battalion Royal Fusiliers at Nimy, where his men put down a rapid rate of fire that decimated the German 84th Infantry Regiment. Soon after Mons he was promoted to brigadier-general and was to be put in command of the 10th Infantry Brigade. But he was killed in action on 11 Nov 1914 during the first battle of Ypres.

The standard of 15 aimed shots per minute is credited to Major Norman Reginald McMahon, Chief Instructor of the British Small Arms School at Hythe from 1905 to 1914. Some attribute the creation of this standard to McMahon's Boer War experience, while others point to McMahon's early advocacy of machine gun usage. In either case, the standard was formalized in the Musketry Regulations of 1909 and earned McMahon the nickname "Musketry Maniac." To support the standard, 15-shot exercises were conducted. These eventually became known as the "Mad Minute." By 1912, failure in the exercise could be sufficient for a discharge due to "inefficiency." By 1914, it was reportedly not uncommon for many troopers to exceed 20 hits per minute.

British Riflemen at the Mons-Conde Canal, 23 August 1914

With the British entry in the First World War, McMahon, now a lieutenant-colonel, took command of 4th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers. His unit took part in the Battle of Mons on 23 August 1914, attempting to hold a pair of bridges at Nimy. During the battle, German forces first mistook the accurate, rapid fire of British troops as the work of machine guns. (The first two Victoria Crosses of the war were awarded as result of the Nimy bridge action but, ironically, to a pair of machine gunners. The 4th Battalion's defense of the bridges didn't fail until after the unit's machine guns were permanently knocked out of action.)

Sources:; IWM

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Great Personalities of the Air War: A Reading List

Pilots Victor Chapman, Kiffin Rockwell, Norman Prince, and James McConnell  of the Lafayette Escadrille

Contributed by Aviation Historian Steve Suddaby

These 11 biographical works are not necessarily a list of the “The Best” works about the war's aviation personalities—I'm not confident I could compile such a list. Each of these is interesting in its own way, and I hope to pleasantly surprise the reader with my unusual, even quirky, choices. Regrettably, I've found no bios of French or Italians that could elbow their way onto this short list.

1. Maurice Baring, Flying Corps Headquarters 1914–1918, 1920. The multilingual Maurice Baring  was Gen Hugh “Boom” Trenchard's right-hand man through most of the war. He translated the inarticulate RFC commander's mutterings into English or French and later wrote this entertaining and literate story of life at RFC HQ.

2. Freiherr Treusch von Buttlar Brandenfels, Zeppelins Over England, 1931. A rare first-person account by a zeppelin commander.

3. K.N. Finne, Igor Sikorsky: The Russian Years, 1987. Excellent story of the visionary designer and his airplanes.

4. Peter Kilduff, Richthofen: Beyond the Legend of the Red Baron, 1993. Simply the best biography of Manfred von Richthofen, the most important personality of WWI aviation.

5. Cecil Lewis, Sagittarius Rising, 1936. This is justifiably the most well known pilot autobiography in English. If it's not in your library, you're missing out.

6. Frederick Libby, Horses Don't Fly, 2000. Amazing and humorous  autobiography of a Colorado cowpuncher who joined the RFC via Canada.

7. Charles Nordhoff & James Norman Hall, Falcons of France, 1929. A slightly fictionalized account using a composite character to describe their experiences in the Lafayette Flying Corps. These famous authors tell a more interesting story than most regular autobiographies without compromising historical accuracy.

8. Blaine Pardoe, Lost Eagles: One Man's Mission to Find Missing Airmen in Two World Wars, 2010. Biography of Frederick Zinn (Lafayette Flying Corps, USAS, OSS), a genuine American hero who devoted his life to bringing closure to the families of missing U.S. fliers.

9. Alexander Riaboff, Gatchina Days: Reminiscences of a Russian Pilot, 1986. Riaboff flew for the Imperial Russian Air Service and later for the Red Air Fleet before escaping the Soviet Union.

10. Gavin Roynon, ed., Home Fires Burning: The Great War Diaries of Georgina Lee, 2006. Georgina Lee was a very literate and politically well connected Londoner. She kept a diary throughout the war years for her infant son. The impact of the zeppelin and Gotha air raids on England, often viewed as merely a nuisance, is astounding when seen from her perspective.

11. Rudolf Stark, Wings of War, 1933. Stark was a German fighter pilot in 1918; his own paintings illustrate the book.

Originally presented in the Winter 2013 issue of The Journal of the World War One Historical Society

Monday, April 12, 2021

A German Admiral Evaluates the Prospect of America Joining the War

Admiral Henning von Holtzendorff

The Memorandum of  Admiral Henning von Holtzendorff

Announcing unlimited submarine warfare will once again force the government of the United States to answer the question of whether or not it wants to experience the consequences of the position it has taken on submarine warfare up until now. I am very much of the opinion that war with America is such a serious matter that everything must be done to avoid it. In my opinion, however, the aversion to this break must not lead us to shrink from using, in the decisive moment, the weapon that promises us victory.

In any case, one should plan for the worst and make clear to ourselves what influence America joining our enemies would have on the course of the war. In regard to shipping capacity, this influence can only be very small. It is not to be expected that more than a small percentage of the tonnage of Germany and its allies in American or other neutral harbors could be quickly put into service for the trip to England. By far the largest part could be damaged in such a way that it would not be able to travel in the first months. The preparations for this have been taken. There would also be no crews for these ships at first. Just as little decisive impact can be attached to American troops–who, on account of limited freight capacity, cannot be brought over in considerable numbers–and American money, which cannot make up for insufficient technical supplies and tonnage.

The only remaining question is how America would respond to a peace such as England would be required to make. It is unlikely that America will then decide to continue to fight us alone, as America will have no means with which to harm us significantly, whereas its ocean traffic will be damaged by our submarines. On the contrary, it is to be expected that America will become a member of a peace treaty with England, in order to arrive at a healthy economic situation once again.

German U-boat Resupply at Sea

I, therefore, conclude that an unrestricted submarine warfare initiated soon enough to bring about peace before the world harvest in summer 1917–that is, before August 1–must hazard the consequences of a break with America, for no other choice remains to us. Despite the danger of a break with America, unlimited submarine warfare, begun soon, is the right means for ending the war successfully. It is also the only means to reach this goal.

Since the fall of 1916, when I declared that the moment had arrived to strike against England, our situation has fundamentally improved. The shortage in the world’s harvest, combined with the effect of the war on England, has once again given us the opportunity to bring about a decision in our favor before the next harvest. If we do not use this opportunity, which according to my calculations will be our last, then I do not see any possibility other than that of mutual exhaustion.

In order to achieve the necessary effect in time, it is necessary for unlimited submarine warfare to begin on February 1st at the latest. From Your Excellency I request a statement explaining whether the military situation on the continent, especially vis-à-vis those nations which are still neutral, will allow this. I need three weeks for the necessary preparations.

Source: Admiral Henning von Holtzendorff to Field Marshal von Hindenburg (22 December 1916)

Sunday, April 11, 2021

"Ernie, Dear Boy": Ernest Hemingway's Dear John Letter from Agnes von Kurowsky

I did not know of the existence of this letter until I viewed the first episode of the new PBS Hemingway series.

Agnes and Ernie in Milan

March 7, 1919

Ernie, dear boy,

      I am writing this late at night after a long think by myself, & I am afraid it is going to hurt you, but, I'm sure it won't harm you permanently.

      For quite awhile before you left, I was trying to convince myself it was a real love-affair, because, we always seemed to disagree, & then arguments always wore me out so that I finally gave in to keep you from doing something desperate.

      Now, after a couple of months away from you, I know that I am still very fond of you, but, it is more as a mother than as a sweetheart. It's alright to say I'm a Kid, but, I'm not, & I'm getting less & less so every day.

      So, Kid (still Kid to me, & always will be) can you forgive me some day for unwittingly deceiving you? You know I'm not really bad, & don't mean to do wrong, & now I realize it was my fault in the beginning that you cared for me, & regret it from the bottom of my heart. But, I am now & always will be too old, & that's the truth, & I can't get away from the fact that you're just a boy - a kid.

      I somehow feel that some day I'll have reason to be proud of you, but, dear boy, I can't wait for that day, & it was wrong to hurry a career.

      I tried hard to make you understand a bit of what I was thinking on that trip from Padua to Milan, but, you acted like a spoiled child, & I couldn't keep on hurting you. Now, I only have the courage because I'm far away.

      Then - & believe me when I say this is sudden for me, too - I expect to be married soon. And I hope & pray that after you thought things out, you'll be able to forgive me & start a wonderful career & show what a man you really are.

      Ever admiringly & fondly,

      Your friend,


Saturday, April 10, 2021

Beaumont Hamel? It Was All About Y-Ravine

View of the Battlefield at Newfoundland Park
The Caribou Memorial Is Roughly at the
Start Line of the Attack
Y-Ravine (Arrow) Is Not Visible Even from Elevation

Today, on the Somme battlefield just to the south of the village of Beaumont Hamel is a magnificent memorial park dedicated to the Newfoundland Regiment which was almost annihilated the morning of 1 July 1916 attacking over this ground.  The Newfoundlaner's story, however, is but one of four similar tales to be told about that awful day.  The attack that morning was the responsibility of the 29th Division, a veteran formation of 1915's Gallipoli campaign.  It's not clear how well the men and their commanders understood the strength of the German defenses  that day.  

Y-Ravine in Blue
Caribou Memorial (Top Photo) Sign #1

Germany’s Württemberg 26th Division had occupied its position  near Beaumont Hamel for 18 months. The German forces had a good view of the surrounding area and clear lines of fire from their trenches. The defenders had spent many month's turning a  unique feature of the terrain into a veritable fortress. Two thousand feet from the British line, across open country, lay three hundred-yard-long Y Ravine, blocking access to the objective of Beaumont  Hamel. This deep natural feature was fortified  and enhanced with deep bunkers allowing the troops to survive artillery barrages. The cover it offered allowed the Germans to bring their troops forward  easily through a spur of the ravine to the firing trench. The success of the attack of 1 July required taking Y-Ravine. But for the attackers, partly due to the downward slope of the land and the immediate drop off of the ravine,  and partly due to smoke of battle, the ravine was almost invisible to the attackers on 1 July 1916.

German Defenses in Terrain Similar to Y-Ravine

The first to attack Y Ravine that July morning were the 1st Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, who suffered some 568 casualties in just a few minutes. Concurrently, the 2nd South Wales Borderers attacked to the left of the ravine and were mostly stopped in no man's land; by 7:35 a.m. the battalion had been annihilated. The Newfoundland Regiment were next up, attacking at 9:05 and experiencing 710 killed and wounded. After the Newfoundlander’s, the 1st Essex followed and they too were decimated. Y-Ravine would be left alone until the end of the Battle of the Somme. 

The 51st Division Clearing Y-Ravine

On 13 November, during the third day of the Battle of the Ancre in thick fog, the 51st (Highland) Division outflanked Beaumont-Hamel on both sides and forced the garrison to surrender. Infantry and artillery co-operation was conspicuously superior to 1 July; barrages were better aimed and more destructive, cut off the German front line from the rear and neutralized German guns. Mopping up parties had been given specific objectives in the German defenses. Y-Ravine, attacked and fired upon from multiple directions was finally cleared. The defenders were exhausted even before the battle began and where the British artillery had cut the wire, were unable to repulse the attack.  In any case, Y-Ravine had taken an awful toll on the British Army in 1916.

Y-Ravine Today

Sources:  The Aberfeldy Museum; Veteran Affairs of Canada; 51st Division, War Sketches, Wikipedia;

Friday, April 9, 2021

Reflections on Being Wounded by Lt. Donald Hankey


If you are wounded, ‘Blighty’; if killed, the Resurrection!

Lt. Donald Hankey, KIA, 12 October 1916

Lt. Hankey Before the War

[Ed. note: Lt. Hankey, then a corporal, had been wounded at Ypres on 30 July 1915. After recuperation, he was commissioned in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and sent to the Somme, where he would eventually perish.]

Very soon, however, the wounded soldier begins to long to be less petted, less lionized, and instead to be treated as a rational being who is entitled to a certain elementary respect.  One can only speak from personal observation. One place differs from another. But from what the writer has seen and experienced he judges that the one thing which a wounded soldier cannot expect is to be treated as a man. He is sent to "Blighty." He arrives at a hospital. His chief pleasure, oddly enough, lies in the prospect of seeing something of his relations and friends. He is surprised and indignant when he finds that he is only allowed to see visitors of his own choice two at a time, for two hours, twice a week. On the other five days he has to put up with the licensed visitors of the hospital. They may be very elevating and amiable people; but he feels no conceivable interest in them. He is still further dismayed when he discovers that under no circumstances may he visit his home while he is a patient. He may go to tea with Lady Snooks, or the Duchess of Downshire; but not with his wife or his mother. The writer's neighbor in the hospital ward was a case in point. He was a man of about thirty who, at the outbreak of war, was holding a responsible position in Sydney. He had all the self-respect which is typical of the colonial of even a few years' standing. He was receiving ten minutes' electrical treatment per diem, with a view to restoring sensation to one of his hands. Otherwise he was able-bodied. His father lived within twenty minutes' walk of the hospital; but not only was he not allowed to live at home and attend as an out-patient, he was not even allowed to visit his home. He was told that the treatment would have to be continued for some six months, and meanwhile he must be a prisoner in the hospital. 

At the V.A.D. convalescent home to which the writer was subsequently transferred, and which was regulated from the hospital, there were several married men whose homes were within reach. They were absolutely forbidden to visit them. One man, who had been in hospital for nine months without ever going home, was so disgusted that he eventually took French leave for a couple of days. On his return he was put in the punishment ward of the main hospital, where he was deprived of tobacco and visitors, and was informed that when he was discharged he would be sent to his battalion for punishment! His comment was, "You'll see; when this war is over it will be just as it was after South Africa. We shall be so much dirt." When we did leave the grounds it had to be in the conspicuous garb, of a military convalescent, that all men might stare, and under the escort of a nurse. Many a quiet, sensible fellow preferred not to go out at all.

New Patients

Another example of the humiliation to which wounded soldiers are subject refers to their difficulty in obtaining their arrears of pay. One man, who had got the eight days' furlough to which a soldier is entitled on leaving hospital, could only obtain twenty-four shillings "advance of pay," though entitled to many pounds. It barely covered his train fare, and left him nothing for paying his living expenses (and his relations were very poor) or for pocket money. The Army is the only profession which I know in which a man receives, not the money to which he is entitled, but such proportion of it as the authorities like to disburse.

This is how the authorities satirize the lionizers, and not all the petting and the lionizing in the world will compensate for the denial of the elementary rights of a man., the right to choose his own visitors, to visit his own home, and to receive the money which he has earned. A man soon tires of being petted and lionized, and craves in vain for the sane respect which is a man's due.

I am aware that there are many hospitals where soldiers are treated much more rationally, and I have never heard that they have abused their reasonable liberty. Nevertheless I feel that it is worth while to utter a protest against the state of affairs described above because it is, after all, so typical of the general failure of the Press, the public, and the powers that be to recognize that the soldier who has fought for his country has earned the right to be regarded as a man. He doesn't want to be petted. Heroics nauseate him. He is not a child or a hero. He is just a man who has done his duty, and he wants a man's due.

It is desirable that soldiers should receive their due now; but it is much more vitally important that when the war is over, and the craze for petting and lionizing has died down, it should be recognized that the soldier who has fought for his country is something more than a pet that has lost his popularity, and a lion that has ceased to roar. There is grave danger that all that will survive of the present mixed attitude towards the soldier will be the attitude of authority, which regards him as an irresponsible animal. 

Source:  A Student in Arms, Donald Hankey, 1917

Thursday, April 8, 2021

First in at Gallipoli: The Harrowing Voyage of Australian Submarine AE2

On 25 April 1915 as Anzacs were preparing for their dawn landings on the Gallipoli peninsula, an Australian submarine had already silently made an advance into the Dardanelles Strait.  AE2 was tasked with trying to get through to create havoc among Turkish shipping in the Sea of Marmara and assist with delaying reinforcements from eastern Turkey crossing to the Gallipoli peninsula. The dangers were immense. Several submarine attempts had already failed.

At 4:30 a.m., just as the first wave of Australian soldiers splashed ashore from their boats, submarine AE2 had been creeping past Turkish forts and underwater minefields for several hours.  AE2’s Stoker Petty Officer Henry (Harry) James Elly Kinder later reported "At 6 a.m. the captain remarked that the next few minutes might see us sailing off for Kingdom Come after our halos and wings. . . .we were approaching the place marked on the chart where there were two stationary mine fields, each containing nine rows of mines. Mines are one of the most dreaded things in submarines. It was not pleasant to know that we had to face eighteen rows of them." 

Just after 6 a.m. AE2 scraped the first wire. Kinder recalled that "it was enough to stop one’s heart beating to hear it sliding over the steel deck." He kept count of the wires as the boat hit them and "on the eighteenth we guessed we had passed through our first danger." The next thing was to pass the "narrows" with its swift current, banks, shallows and overlooking forts.

At this point, the captain of AE2, Commander Henry Stoker, saw several Turkish cruisers at anchor and decided to "have a shot." But the discharge of the torpedo had affected the vessel’s compass and AE2 was 80 feet under water and running blind. Surfacing to gain bearings was too dangerous, as they were in front of the Turkish forts, but the narrows forced their hand—as the bottom was felt, AE2 rose but became stuck on a bank and surfaced right under Turkish guns. In one sense they were fortunate, being so close inshore that the forts’ guns could not be successfully trained on them. With all the ballast tanks blown and the motor full speed astern, gradually AE2 bumped off the bank. The tanks were again flooded and slowly the vessel sank back down to 80 feet.

Yet after escaping one side, and still traveling blind, AE2 careened into the opposite bank—again forcing its way off and gaining bearings before Turkish gunfire could target it.

Their luck continued as the compass "became sensible again" and Commander Stoker continued toward their goal of the more open Sea of Marmara. With an array of Turkish vessels desperately searching for it, Stoker decided to rest the vessel on the bottom. It was 8 a.m. on Sunday morning. The crew had breakfast and some sleep, then rose for morning prayers at 11 a.m. Kinder wrote, "I dare say it was the first time prayers were read on the bottom of the sea." Commander Stoker decided to wait for nightfall so they might surface with less risk. Turkish vessels dragged lines searching for the submarine throughout the day. A destroyer passed only a few feet over their position—so close the AE2 crew could "hear the stokers opening the furnace door and shovelling coal into the fires." Toward the end of the day the air inside the submarine was getting thick." AE2 had been submerged for 14 hours and carried no oxygen to renew the air. At 10:30 p.m. Commander Stoker decided it was quiet enough above to continue.

After sitting on the surface and recharging batteries, finally, at daylight on 26 April, AE2 headed into the Sea of Marmara and a sense of security, with open water to escape in. Now, out of the dangers of the narrows, mines, current, forts and depth charges, AE2 was in the box seat.  Brazenly traveling on the surface scaring off local shipping, and turning back transports with enemy troops heading toward Gallipoli. Stoker had been ordered to "run amuck" [sic] if he made it through.

After spending the next night submerged, then scaring off several more transports the next day, Stoker saw an opportunity and fired a torpedo at a transport vessel. Its escorting destroyers then attempted to ram AE2 and as the submarine dived, a destroyer’s propellers sounded so close that "we ducked our heads to allow it to pass." Another night was spent lying on the bottom. Kinder reflected that, "When the boat is lying on the bottom with only a pilot light on, one begins to imagine all sorts of things happening… Perhaps it would not be able to rise again with the crew caught like rats in a trap with no hope of escape. If you let your imagination run too long you can feel your hair rising … Sometimes the sound of a voice is a welcome sound."

Then on 29 April, in a moment of utter surprise and almost disbelief, a British submarine was spotted. E14 had also run the gauntlet in AE2’s wake. The two commanders then agreed to separate and rendezvous the next day. But this meeting was not to occur. The next day, on nearing the appointed rendezvous, two Turkish gunboats and a destroyer were sighted making a bee-line for AE2. When the vessel dived, something was wrong—the boat started to go down by the bow. It was impossible to stand; "everything moveable in the boat started to slide and roll to the bows." Eventually, after all the ballast tanks were blown and with the engines full astern, AE2 began to rise. But circling above were Turkish warships. 

In Theater, Preparing to Run the Dardanelles

AE2 surfaced with a "whoosh," and Stoker quickly flooded the tanks in order to dive again, hoping this time to dive correctly. But luck had seemed to finally desert AE2. Just as it was about to submerge, three shells hit the vessel. Water was flooding the engine room. AE2 descended, and after a hard struggle, the watertight doors to the engine room were closed. The vessel went down to 80 feet and then stopped. Would the flooded engines keep going? Without them AE2 could not surface.  Then AE2 began to rise. Perhaps luck was still with them. But on the surface the crew soon realized AE2’s end had come. While Stoker gave the order to abandon ship, the two gunboats were still firing and shells were falling all around.

Henry Kinder spent his last few minutes looking around the boat. He noticed the clock at five minutes to 12, and recalled there was a rabbit pie in the oven. He left the pie and went to his ditty box to retrieve 16 shillings and a photograph of his wife. On deck, Kinder saw Commander Stoker come up after opening the kingston valves to scuttle the vessel. They then dived overboard with the rest of the crew. For a few seconds Kinder saw AE2 "moving through the water like a big, wounded fish, gradually disappearing from sight." There was only one casualty—a large rat that the cat at Garden Island in Sydney had chased on board one morning when the submarine was lying alongside. The rat took up residence in the engine room and the crew fed him to stop him eating their own food.

AE2 sent a wireless signal through to say the vessel had breached the Dardanelles Strait, and it has been argued that this news had a role in firming the Allied commanders’ resolve to continue the Gallipoli invasion, rather than evacuate in the early stages. The resulting carnage haunted Haggard for the rest of his life, resulting in a long personal silence for this crew member of submarine AE2, the so-called "Silent Anzac."

The AE2, Australia’s second war submarine, was sunk in the Sea of Marmara on 30 April 1915. Torpedoed by the Turkish boat Sultan Hissar, the 32-man crew was forced to abandon ship and all were taken prisoner. Though their captors at first treated them as “honored guests,” the submariners were sent to work on the railway being built through the Taurus Mountains of southern Turkey. In that harsh climate, they suffered from malnutrition, overwork, disease, and brutality. Four died, of typhus, malaria or meningitis.

Surviving Crew as Prisoners of War Prior to Repatriation

AE2’s final resting place was located in 1998 by a Turkish dive team led by Selçuk Kolay, OAM. The submarine’s identity was confirmed later the same year by a team of Australian archaeologists led by Dr Mark Spencer and Tim Smith. The initial site survey provided critical information about the submarine’s condition, clarified its historical and archaeological significance, and proposed options for its long-term management.

Source:  Australian National Maritime Museum

Wednesday, April 7, 2021



by Sapper (Herman Cyril McNeile) 

"Twas mentioning to you the other day that I was concerning the difference between them Prussians and the other blackguards in their army — them Saxons and the others." Cassidy carefully adjusted a pillow behind his head, and then gazed reflectively at an extremely vulgar cigarette holder of which he was inordinately proud.

"They are different entirely," he continued, when I had justified my existence, "and it is careful one must be that when they are relieved in their trenches they do not change round. For should one have had those Saxon lads opposite to one for a time, one is apt to be after getting a little gay with them: bits of tobacco and the like are apt to change hands, and one is not above coming out of the trenches to take the air. If that same thing is tried on with the Prussians the result is unhealthy, and it is not twice one does it.

"'Twas only the other day I was hearing from one of the lads, of one of those Saxon regiments occupying a bit of trench opposite us. 'Twas fed up they all were with the mud and the filth, and they knew — both we and they — that there was nothing doing. So gradual like they got a bit free and easy, until one morning the Germans hoisted a deck-chair on to the ground behind their trench.

"'What is it at all they are doing?' said the lads, 'for 'tis a strange place entirely for a deck-chair.' And then they hoisted a white flag, and the lads were all watching, and one of their officers gets out and waves his hand to us. 'Good-morning, Englishmen,' he says, and sits down on the chair. He lights a cigar and starts reading the paper.

"'Well, I'm—' says one of our officers, ''tis a casual blackguard that he is. But he has nerve, and the saints forbid that he should come to harm, for 'tis a man after my own heart that he is.'

"And after a while, our lads and theirs, they all came out and lay on the ground, and 'tis most days they are after doing it. About fifty yards apart they are, and they shout remarks at one another. For, when all is said and done, 'tis of small matter if we kill ten of them and they kill ten of us, as far as the result is concerned. 'Tis just twenty more of the lads gone to the other side, and no good from it at all; and that is all the result one will be after getting, however much one throws bombs and shoots on sight and the like. For in the part of the line where an advance on either side is impossible 'tis silly to sacrifice the lads, and that is where it differed from the Christmas truce. The lads who were hobnobbing there had been fighting the day before, and would be at it again the next — not like the particular Saxon lads of whom I am after telling you. 'Twas a curious thing that happened with them, too, one day, for the Captain was out in his chair, and he was drinking beer, and all the lads were taking it easy like, when one of our guns made a boss shot and put a shell right in the middle of them. 'Twas pure accident, but it killed ten of them.

"'Get back in the trenches,' shouts one of our own officers, for 'twas annoyed he thought they might be. But the German officer did not move. 'Twas his glass he waved friendly like, to show that he understood and bore no ill feeling, and all went on as before."

Now, as I have mentioned, I have known Sergeant Cassidy for many years, and I have a very high regard for his many sterling qualities; but I am free to confess that I looked at him a trifle hard as I again replenished his cigarette holder. It struck me that the story had just a shade too much Ballygoyle flavour in it. For the benefit of those unacquainted with his history, I may mention that it was in the aforesaid hamlet in Erin that he first saw light, and his stories in connection with it put Baron Munchausen to utter rout.

"Is it deceiving you I would be, sir!" he cried with dignity. "'Tis perhaps a little free and easy like in the telling that I was, but 'tis true every word of it. For is it a shell more or less that would be after making one annoyed over yonder, when one has been where they are like bees when they are swarming? And you will mind another thing, sir. When one has a long line like what we have yonder, the healthiness of it varies from mile to mile as a place of residence. There are bits of it which are of no use to man or beast, and there are others which are important; but 'tis held it must all be. Then there are bits which are easy to hold, and bits which are not. If you find yourself in a bit of flat country, with the Germans fifty yards away, and a barbed-wire factory in between, 'tis at a standstill you both are. There is nothing doing either way, and 'tis of little use trying to do it. And in those parts of the line where there is nothing of importance behind the other devils, such as a big railway junction or the like, 'tis stopped the fighting that they have. They just sit there and watch one another; and as I was saying in the story I was telling you, and which you was after doubting" — Cassidy fixed me with a stern eye — "they see the folly of killing when 'tis no gain to either side that it will be.

"There are, of course, the other places, where by the nature of the ground one side or the other find it difficult to hold, or 'tis important to get a bit of a hill or the like; and there they are at it all day long and all night too for the matter of that. Mining they are and sapping, and the like, and it is not I that need be telling you what that means."

But here, for the benefit of the uninitiated, I will interrupt the thread of my old friend Cassidy's discourse. For in this warfare of moles every idea and rule of fighting — the ABC of it one might say, has been changed from what one was taught. And it is possible that to some people sapping and mining may be but terms vaguely associated with picks and shovels and explosions which occur periodically in the bowels of the earth. At the risk, therefore, of boring those who know, I will try and give briefly an idea of what really happens.

Originally, then, before the Huns hunned, that particular operation known as "sapping and mining" was associated with fortress warfare. Having found your fortress, you next proceeded to sit and look at it, from a trench and a safe distance. When you got tired of this interesting pastime, and were able to sit up and take nourishment again and all that sort of thing, you crept out into the dark and stilly night, and dug another trench a bit nearer the fortress. By dawn, when those unfortunates who had received the next man's pick through their foot, had been removed to the nearest clearing hospital, you were all safely ensconced two or three hundred yards nearer home.

However, as frequently occurred, the owners of the fortress refused to conform to the rules, and insisted on directing the vulgar glare of publicity, in the shape of a searchlight, on the lads as they indulged in their nightly pastime. A tendency to open fire with maxims and other unpleasant instruments rendered it impossible for the men to do themselves justice, and other methods had to be resorted to — the first of these being known as "sapping." Now to sap is a tedious operation, as only one man can work on the front of each sap at a time. Should anyone doubt me, I would suggest that he digs a hole in his lawn about six feet deep in which he can comfortably stand, and then — never coming nearer to the surface of the ground than that six feet — that he should proceed to hew a passage from the hole to the pigsty or ferret house or some point of notoriety in the neighbourhood. Remember, he must not come to the surface of the ground and dig down. He must go forward, always keeping six feet below the surface, hewing a passage out for himself as he goes.

True, in the trenches there is a waiting domestic to remove the earth to the rear on a silver salver, and other modern improvements laid on, but even so three feet an hour is very good going. There is another point, too, which must not be lost sight of. The average man, if he did dig a hole in the ground, in order to sap to the hennery, and was left at large and so forth, would in all probability go there in a straight line — it being, I believe, one of those great truths to be spoken of in whispers, and discovered by my old friend Euclid, that the shortest distance between two points is the straight line joining them. A point which the dear man overlooked, however, is that a long straight line is a very nice thing for what is known as enfilade fire, and a maxim firing down a communication trench — and that is all a sap is — makes things unhealthy for the users of that same — as Cassidy would say. So saps proceed in a series of zigzags, and by this means you get as near the fortress as possible — putting sandbags filled with earth on the ground in front of you, to protect your head.

When you have got as near as you can, you join the heads of all the saps with another trench, and pause to recover your breath. I am speaking of what we were taught before the war, for nous avons changé tout cela. (Following Cassidy's advice I have been taking French lessons.) Then comes the time when the General sends for the sappers and breaks it to them gently that a little mining would be an interesting form of amusement. When everyone has got over their joy, and written their wills, and finished what was left of the port, they start mining. Now sapping is slow, but it's like an aeroplane and a tortoise compared to mining. In sapping you are up in the air, but in mining you're not. You go down under the ground, and proceed to make a series of mine shafts, starting from the trench you were last in, towards the fortress. As you go along you put in a succession of wooden cases to hold up the sides and top of the gallery, and the earth is taken away to the rear as in sapping. The direction is given by the officers, and though great accuracy is not needed, it is advisable not to go backwards or anything like that, as it tends to make the General unsympathetic.

Let it not be considered that one's troubles are now over. Being people of a cantankerous disposition, the inhabitants of the fortress proceed to countermine — that is, run out mines to meet you. In parenthesis I might say that one's object in mining is that when one has approached the actual fort itself, the mine head is stacked with explosives, and at the crucial moment all the charges in all the mine-heads are fired. When those that feel like it have exploded, any of the assailants who are not stunned by the shock, or killed by the flying bricks, rush forward with a hoarse British cheer and capture the fort. That's the idea, and they're always led by the Senior Sapper Subaltern present, which is very beautiful and all that; but I have always thought personally, being what is described as an interested party, that a stone in one's boot, or a sudden attack of writer's cramp, or something of that sort, would be much more in my line. However, that is neither here nor there, and I'm really quite brave after dinner.

Well, as I was saying, the men in the fort start countermining out to meet you, and their idea is to put little charges in the front of their mines and by exploding them make it impossible for you to work. When you are down there you can hear the tapping of their picks in the distance, but it is almost an impossible thing to tell how far they are away. They tried a big experiment once with some coal miners, to see if by listening they could tell how far off the other man was, but they failed. For if there is a fissure in the soil running parallel with the mine between you and the other lad, he will sound close to, and he may be fifty yards off. And if there's a stratum of some soil more or less impervious to sound perpendicular to you in front of your mine, he may be close, but you will scarcely hear him. It's jumpy work, for you never know but what the other fellow will blow up his mine and do you down.

In this war, however, as far as fortresses are concerned, the necessity for sapping and mining has disappeared. In fact, fortress warfare has disappeared, as it was understood in the past, for no fortress can stand against modern heavy artillery. It is almost unnecessary to have any infantry there — the gunners can do the whole thing, and all the mining and sapping that is done now is done against infantry in their trenches. For it is easy to see that though these heavy guns are the devil when they have a fortress they can't miss, yet against infantry in narrow trenches they have a very different target, and one where they cannot do anything like the same amount of damage. Trench warfare now has become what fortress warfare was in the past — a slow and tedious operation; and just as with a fortress there came a time when further progress was impossible, save under the ground, so now, in those places where fighting continues without cessation, the only method of getting nearer the other trench is by sapping and mining, and the invariable retaliation of countermining.

Of that sapping and mining there are stories to tell.

From: Sergeant Michael Cassidy, R.E.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

This Time Next Year We’ll Be Laughing: A Memoir

by Jacqueline Winspear
Soho Press, 2020
Ron Drees, Reviewer

Author-to-Be and Best Selling Author

Students of the Great War are probably wondering who Jacqueline Winspear is. Two-fold explanation: she is the award-winning author of the Maisie Dobbs series of books. Dobbs is a fictional nurse/sleuth who solves mysteries in the Great War, with her career continuing into peace time and the next war. Jacqueline is also the granddaughter of Jack Winspear, a British infantryman who was shelled and gassed at the Somme and suffered from his wounds until his death in 1966. These are some of the Great War experiences throughout this book that influenced Jackie in later years when she became a writer and the creator of Maisie Dobbs.

The bulk of this book is about Jackie growing up in post-WWII England with all the privations and difficulties thereof. England was impoverished by the wars, unlike the U.S. which came out better, stronger, full of hope and purpose. She tells of how her family always had to watch how they spent their money, how her father worked two jobs, how a holiday would be going out to the country to help with harvests of hops and apples, and the near-death experience of her brother when he developed appendicitis which went undiagnosed for two critical days. A cause for celebration was when the government subsidized the installation of indoor plumbing in their home. Her mother’s relationship with Jackie alternated between loving and rocky. Despite it all, Jackie considered her life a happy success.

Cranbrook, Kent
Jackie Grew Up Just Outside of Town

Jackie also told other stories about the Great War: the gross injuries suffered by many men and the White Feather Movement which wrongfully accused some men of cowardice when they had actually done their duty at the cost of severe injuries. She told of singing and dancing for two brothers who had empty sockets where their eyes had once been. But not only the men suffered; there were women who endured a lifetime of loneliness because their loved one had died in the war. The government called them “surplus women,” the two million women who would never marry because of the corpse-strewn battlefields in France and elsewhere.

As a youngster, Jackie had experiences with Granddad’s PTSD. She had misbehaved so badly that the old man had an episode where he stabbed her doll because it had triggered memories of bayonet training. Even at the age of 77, Granddad was removing steel splinters from his legs, put there by a shell that had exploded nearly 50 years ago. These experiences led to her interest in that period, shaping her novels.

Early in the book, her riding trainer asked Jackie, then age 63, to attempt something new. Because of her fear of this activity, she had several sessions with a sports psychologist. She was diagnosed with secondary PTSD because of her mother’s stories about being trapped in a house collapsed by bombing during the Blitz. A reviewer had written of one of her Great War novels, “…the wartime period that continues to haunt her.” Elsewhere, Jackie quotes a study that claims it takes three generations for war trauma to pass through a family.

While I haven’t read Jackie’s novels—my wife has read them all—I found this book, pardon the cliché, a page-turner. Two wars formed the background for Jackie’s upbringing, and she used them both to become an acclaimed novelist. Read this book to learn how the wars affected a nation for decades in ways that are eye-opening to us relatively spoiled Yanks. Or read it just because it’s a really good story.

Ron Drees

Monday, April 5, 2021

Recommended: The Rock of Gallipoli — The Leadership of Mustafa Kemal

By Major Eric T. Venditti, U.S. Army

From: Military Review, Jan-Feb 2021

I am not ordering you to attack. I am ordering you to die. In the time that it takes us to die, other forces and commanders can come and take our place.

Mustafa Kemal, 25 April 1915


Mustafa Kemal (Light Uniform) & Staff at Gallipoli

When the Ottoman Empire joined Germany and the Central Powers against the Allies, a bad situation became worse. With Germany mere miles from Paris and the Russians losing whole armies in the field, the Allied powers knew they could not long withstand a protracted war. They attacked on several fronts all along the Ottoman borders—Russians in the Caucuses and the British and French in Egypt and Mesopotamia. Those efforts were succeeding but too slowly to have an effect. The Ottomans threatened to starve the Russians; the only yearlong seaport available was on the Crimea, and the only access to the outside world ran straight through Istanbul and the Dardanelles. First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill proposed a daring plan to simultaneously secure the waterways to Russia and strike at the heart of Turkey. The Allies would invade a small spit of land called Gallipoli that controlled access to the Dardanelles, the Ottoman capital, and on to Russia itself.

The preparations started with the fleet bombarding the forts along the coast in March.  The invasion began a month later. The Turks went to sleep on the night of 24 April with the Allied fleet on the horizon. They awoke at dawn to find an army already on the beaches and with more on the way. The entire campaign hinged on the first few hours—success or failure could come down to a single misstep on either side. However, fortune favored the Turks on this day; they had a competent commander with a brilliant mind and a powerful will. Mustafa Kemal, commander of the 19th Division and the entire 5th Army’s reserve, stood at Boghali, seven kilometers away from landings at Ari Burnu.  He was in the right place with the right tools at the right time, but that in itself did not guarantee victory. It came down to the leader and how he led.

Terrain of Anzac Sector, Gallipoli

Of the six activities of the commander in the operations process, Kemal executed the first five with the greatest effect, motivating his own troops and halting the enemy.  Kemal’s grasp of these commander’s activities saved the battle for the Turks in the first hours of the Battle of Gallipoli. He understood a chaotic situation, visualized the conditions necessary for success, described them to his subordinates, directed his units, led the battle, and constantly assessed his position against a brave but battered enemy.

Read the full article:


Sunday, April 4, 2021

18 July 1918: The Aisne-Marne Counterattack — America's Part

American Artillery Position Near Soissons

By Patrick Gregory

Historian John S.D. Eisenhower described it as ‘the turning point’. And certainly many of the key American participants of the time said they felt a decisive shift against the German Army after the Battle of Soissons in July 1918. Patrick Gregory has been looking at how US troops on the Western Front spearheaded Allied counter-attacks 100 years ago.

July 1918 was to prove a watershed moment in the ebb and flow of World War I and its rhythm of movement back and forth. On 15 July, the Quartermaster General of the Imperial German army Erich Ludendorff launched his fifth – and as it would turn out final – offensive of that spring and summer. Yet, what he had hoped would mark his armies’ ultimate breakthrough moment instead proved to be the opposite.  Operation Friedensturm, the Freedom Offensive, would stall and in its wake the tide would finally begin to turn in the Allies’ favor.

Ludendorff was to resume his Aisne-Marne assault of May and June when he had originally hoped to break the Allied lines, sending German troops cascading down around the city of Reims and down towards the Marne.

Within hours his troops had crossed the river – one of the main gateways to Paris – east of the town of Château-Thierry. But in their path stood the US 3d Division, part of the French Fifth Army. At the army’s core were two American Expeditionary Force regiments whose resolute defense of their sector was to see them later nicknamed the "Rock of the Marne": Ulysses Grant McAlexander’s 38th Infantry and the 30th Infantry headed by Colonel Edmund Luther ‘Billy’ Butts. The two regiments repelled the attackers across the valley of the Surmelin River which ran into the Marne six miles east of Château-Thierry.

And now, with the German offensive effectively held, Supreme Allied Commander Ferdinand Foch could focus his full attention on the counter-offensive that he had been planning some 20 miles further north.

Foch had picked the area south of the important transport hub of Soissons to turn the tables on Ludendorff’s forces and eat into the salient created in the Aisne-Marne area by the German assaults of May and June. His aim, to try to push German divisions back beyond the Vesle and Aisne rivers from where they had attacked back then; offensives which for a period had threatened Paris itself.

Accordingly, Foch directed that key units be gathered up in the Retz (or Villers-Cotterêts) forest south-west of Soissons, as part of the French Tenth Army. Key to the operation, was the army’s XX Corps which was to lead the offensive, with the AEF 1st and 2d Divisions on either flank, and with the hardy 1st Moroccan Division at its center, comprised of a battle-hardened group of north African and Foreign Legionnaire troops.

It was from this area, at 0435 on Thursday 18 July, that the attack began. Advancing eastwards behind a mix of light, medium and heavy artillery, the three divisions concentrated their firepower on the area south of Soissons, aiming to sever the key road and rail links from Soissons down to the Marne. By the end of the first day the assault had succeeded in penetrating German lines by up to four miles in places. The Second Brigade of the 1st Division on the northern flank sustained counter attacks in the course of the day as it attempted to cross the Missy Ravine.

A total of some 1,500 overall AEF casualties were reported on day one, a number set to double the next day as enemy forces dug in and as the Allied attackers could count on less in the way of support from the tanks which had started out with them.

Nonetheless, the American divisions strove to keep up the pace of their attacks. The 2d Division, pushing into the southern part of the attack zone sector, covered an impressive area, in spite of a rising casualty toll. Seven miles of ground was gained by them in just over 24 hours before they were told to rest. By 21 July the XX Corps had driven well beyond the road leading from Soissons down to Château-Thierry, as German divisions began withdrawing from the salient.

No one obvious end point to the Soissons and Aisne-Marne campaign can be easily pointed to or a single moment of ‘victory’ isolated. It was not all over in one go. The German presence did not evaporate entirely in the weeks ahead. But the speed and aggression of the AEF units had marked an important military achievement. For the first time in 1918, Ludendorff’s men found themselves on the retreat and no further offensive would be mounted by them in the remaining months of the war.

These were still early days for the Americans in the conflict, as late in the day as it was for the Allies overall. The first full US-led assault had only taken place two months earlier at Cantigny 20 miles south of Amiens; and that had been followed by the fighting in around the Marne, including the Marines’ bloody encounter in Belleau Wood in June. Fighting order was still being learned and mistakes made on the battlefield. Heavy casualties had been sustained in all the conflicts to date: a mixture of poor planning; insufficient artillery support; and problems of transport and supply.


A Column of the 4th U.S. Division Advancing into the Salient

But what was not in doubt was the Americans’ bravery on the battlefield. The troops’ willingness to fight had been tested in often arduous conditions and they had proved themselves to ready for conflict.

“It is not often possible to say of wars just when and where the scales wavered, hung, then turned for good and all”, said General Robert Lee Bullard of the Battle of Soissons, as he singled out the work of his divisions in the fight. It was a sentiment echoed by George Marshall, who, as an operational strategist, first distinguished himself with the US forces in WWI.

“The entire aspect of the war had changed. The great counteroffensive on July 18 at Soissons had swung the tide of battle in favor of the Allies, and the profound depression which had been accumulating [was dissipated] and replaced by a wild enthusiasm throughout France and especially directed towards the American troops who had so unexpectedly assumed the leading role in the Marne operation.”

There was an immediate follow-up to the Aisne-Marne victory.

On July 24, Ferdinand Foch met the American, British and French army commanders – John Pershing, Sir Douglas Haig and Philippe Pétain – to call for a return to the offensive at other key points on the Western Front.

The Allies delivered their next blow against the weakened Germans on August 8. The British-led attack at Amiens was remembered by Erich Ludendorff as ‘the Black Day of the German Army’. It was the start of the ‘Hundred Days’ – the  offensives ending World War I.

Originally posted on 24 July 2018.Patrick Gregory is co-author with Elizabeth Nurser of An American on the Western Front: The First World War Letters of Arthur Clifford Kimber 1917-18 (The History Press 2016) American on the Western Front & @AmericanOnTheWF

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Ten Quotes of Helmuth von Moltke the Younger


Moltke in Retirement

The nephew of Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke, architect of German victory in the Franco-Prussian War, Moltke the younger (1848–1916) succeeded Schlieffen as chief of the General Staff in January 1906. These quotes start from when he was offered that office.

The worth of the great maneuvers as preparation for war lies in the testing of the higher commanders against an enemy who makes his own decisions. . . . If the decisions of the Commanding Generals are always influenced by the interference of Your Majesty, the desire for initiative will be taken from them. 

Request to the Kaiser to stop influencing prewar maneuvers before taking office as Chief of Staff

In war there is no such thing as complete certainty. The adversary has his own will and may perhaps do something entirely different from what we hope. One can therefore only reckon with probabilities and cannot wait for clarification of his intentions. One would otherwise always come too late.

1907 Instruction

The moment Russia mobilizes, Germany also will mobilize, and will unquestionably mobilize her whole army.

To Conrad von Hötzendorf, 1909

If we again slink out of this affair with our tail between our legs, if we cannot pull ourselves together to present demands which we are prepared to enforce by the sword, then I despair of the future of the German Reich.

Letter to his wife during the Agadir Crisis,  1911

But if we are to take the offensive against France, it would be necessary to violate the neutrality of Belgium. It is only by an advance across Belgium that we can hope to attack and defeat the French army in the open field.

Memorandum, December 1912


Riding with the Kaiser

[The next war will be] a question of life or death for us. We shall stop at nothing to gain our end. In the struggle for existence, one does not bother about the means one employs.

To the Italian military attaché (March 1913)

We are ready [for war], and the sooner it comes, the better for us.

Remark of 1 June 1914 

[This war]  will expand to a world war. . . how it will end, no one knows.

Remark of 1 August 1914

Revolution in India and Egypt, and also in the of the highest importance. The treaty with Turkey will make it possible for the Foreign Office to realise this idea and to awaken the fanaticism of Islam.

Memorandum, 5 August 1914

It is dreadful to be condemned to inactivity in this war which I prepared and initiated.

Letter to Field Marshal Colmar Freiherr von der Goltz 14 June 1915

Sources: Wikiquotes, Companion to the First World War, Preparing the German Army for the First World  War