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

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

The Imperial War Museum Book of the Western Front

By Malcolm Brown
Macmillan Pub Ltd; Revised, Updated edition, 2001
Peter Belmonte, Reviewer

Historian Malcolm Brown has written several books on World War I, including compilations of letters and firsthand accounts. In this fine book, Brown covers the Western Front specifically. To do this, Brown cites accounts from more than one hundred veterans. These accounts, and the accompanying photographs, are taken from the archives of London’s Imperial War Museum. The author uses mostly diary entries or letters written very soon after the actions they describe. While Brown understands the nuances of using various types of eyewitness accounts, he has chosen to use those written soon after the actions they describe. According to Brown, the result is “the better and the more valuable a contribution to the literature of the war, for the sharp focus that has been adopted” (p. xi). The men and women whose memoirs are featured served in all branches and capacities of the British Army (including Commonwealth soldiers), and they range in rank from private to brigadier general.

Brown’s narrative and quotations proceed chronologically, divided into three main sections corresponding to the fighting on the Western Front: Movement, Deadlock, and Break-Out. Interspersed are topical diversions to cover such things as the air war, entertainment, women in the British Army, and Americans. Brown’s selections reveal the wide variety of experiences and attitudes among the soldiers. The quotations are straightforward, and readers are indebted to these men and to the people who kept and preserved their documents. They reveal the boredom, horror, humor, frailty, and bravery of life on the Western Front.

In an interesting Afterword, Brown discusses the enduring controversy among historians and the general public between those who view the war as a senseless, fruitless waste of human life and those who view it as a terrible but necessary endeavor. Brown proceeds to give a series of quotations from the eyewitnesses that support each point of view. The author acknowledges his small sample size but comes to the conclusion that the men had varying views, sometimes switching views themselves; Brown understands that such things are dependent upon each individual and his experiences and background. Like many historical and academic debates, it has no ultimate solution: “It is surely time that a truce was declared between the opposing camps, in that both sides clearly have a part of the truth, but neither can lay claim to the whole of it” (p. 270). 

To sum up, Brown quotes Sergeant Robert Crude, a battalion runner with the Buffs, who, when writing in his diary about life on the Western Front stated: “Must grumble, but carry on” (p. 270).

The author has done a wonderful job of selecting accounts from what must have been a vast trove of examples. Many fine photographs enhance the text. The Imperial War Museum Book of the Western Front is very highly recommended to readers who are interested in any aspect of World War I combat.

Peter Belmonte

Monday, December 5, 2022

Meet Elsie Janis: Sweetheart of the AEF, Part II

We honored Elsie with a feature article in 2017 that can be viewed HERE.  However, when I discovered the video below,  I just had to share it with our readers. Please check out our earlier article, too.  It has some information you won't learn from the video.  MH

Sunday, December 4, 2022

The Ruhr Crisis of 1920

Red Revolutionaries in Dortmund

A crisis in Germany came to a head a hundred years ago that challenged both the enforceability of the newly implemented terms of the Versailles Treaty and the credibility of the Weimar Republic. It was triggered by an attempted right wing coup in Berlin on 13 March 1920 which aimed to replace the Weimar Republic. It failed, but Communist elements in the industrial Ruhr area seized on the instability to call for a general strike, as a preliminary to mounting their own revolution against the government. Within a week a Red Ruhr Army had been activated, took the initiative, and, after capturing several hundred paramilitary Freikorps troops, occupied the city of Dortmund.

The Weimar government had to respond, and on 2 April 1920 Germany sent troops into the Ruhr valley to confront the Reds. This was in violation of the Treaty of Versailles. Wilhelm von Mayer, Germany's chargé d'affaires to France, met with Prime Minister Alexandre Millerand and said that some German troops had entered the demilitarized neutral zone (the 50 kilometers [31 mi] west of the Rhine River) on Thursday evening but requested a waiver of the treaty in order to confront the leftist rebels.

German Soldiers and Executed Reds

Premier Millerand informed von Mayer that the German troops would have to be withdrawn and on 4 April announced that he would send troops to occupy the German cities of Frankfurt, Darmstadt, Homburg, and Hanau, located within the neutral zone in the Ruhr Valley. Two days later French Army troops under the command of General Degoutte marched into Frankfurt and Darmstadt and began disarming striking workmen. Meanwhile, Germany's Army, the Reichswehr, marched into Essen, site of the largest concentration of leftist rebels in the Ruhr zone. Their suppression efforts, and those of the Red forces were especially brutal, and included summary executions. By 8 April the German Army had gained control of the entire Ruhr north of the River Ruhr with the remaining leftist forces fleeing to the kinder, gentler French-occupied sector.

In total, about a thousand of the Red forces died, with roughly half that figure for the German Army and Freikorps. The greatest victim of the crisis, however, was the Weimar Republic, which had shown itself both politically weak and diplomatically impotent due to the hated Versailles Treaty. The Ruhr Crisis was a signal that more emergencies were coming soon.

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Remembering a Veteran: Lt. Harry Moseley, 13th Division British Army

Henry G. J. Moseley – Pioneer in Nuclear Physics and the Analytical Use of X-rays, Killed in Action at Suvla Bay,
 Gallipoli,  10 August 1915

By James Patton

Gallipoli Peninsula, June 1915: The Anglo-French invasion was looking like a fiasco. Unwilling to concede failure, Mediterranean Expeditionary Force commander Gen. Sir Ian Hamilton and his staff began to lobby for a new offensive. Churchill supported their cause and Lord Kitchener agreed to contribute three New Army divisions made up of 1914 volunteers now deemed ready for combat. An ambitious, complicated plan was devised, the execution of which would prove to be impossible, and it would be the greatest fiasco within the fiasco. 

The offensive was to begin on 6 August. Diversionary attacks would be launched by the 1st Australian Brigade at Lone Pine and by the British 88th Brigade at Krythia Vineyard in order to hold enemy forces to the south of the real attack zone. Later the 3rd Australian Light Horse Brigade would also launch a diversion at the Nek to draw enemy strength from Chunuk Bair.  

At dawn, the new IX Corps, commanded by Lt. Gen. Sir Frederick Stopford, would land its 11th (Northern) Division at Suvla Bay six miles north of Anzac Cove, with the 10th (Irish) Division to follow on the 7th, the 53rd (Welsh) Division on the 8th and the 54th (East Anglian) Division on the 10th, the latter two being Territorial Army (akin to the U.S. National Guard) units pulled from the defense of the Suez Canal. IX Corps forces were to move inland immediately and push across to the Dardenelles so as to cut off all of the Ottoman forces on the southern end of the peninsula. In order for this ‘push’ to succeed it would be necessary to clear the Sari Bair highlands of Ottoman observation posts.

For this purpose an attack force would be assembled at Anzac consisting of most of the 38th and 39th Brigades of the 13th (Western) Division, the 4th Australian Brigade (commanded by Brig. John Monash, later the commander of all Australian forces on the Western Front), the 1st NZ Infantry Brigade, the NZ Mounted Rifles Brigade and the 29th Indian Brigade, which was an ad hoc force, consisting of three seasoned Gurkha battalions and two New Army battalions detached from the 38th and 39th Brigades. After a forced night march, shortly before dawn on the 7th, a coordinated surprise attack by the Australians, the Gurkhas and the New Zealanders would capture the three high peaks of the Sari Bair Range. These experienced assault troops would be backed up by the green New Army units from the 13th Division.

2nd Lt. Harry Moseley,  RE, 13th Division

This last part was the most intricate part of the plan. For three successive moonless nights about 20,000 men would have to be secretly landed at North Beach (next to Anzac Cove) and somehow hidden from enemy observation and shelling. At dusk on the 6th these units would form into two columns and move out in total darkness. The left column would eventually split and the Australians would capture Hill 971 while the 29th Indian Brigade would capture Hill Q. The right hand column would split much earlier in their march—the NZ Mounted Rifles would clear the enemy from the four low hills of Beauchops, Table Top, Little Table Top and Destroyer, the 1st NZ Brigade would capture Rhododendron Spur and with support from the 38th and 39th Brigades drive the enemy from Chunuk Bair. Incredibly, all of this was to happen by noon the next day.

Problems were immediately apparent and just kept on coming. There was nowhere near enough space at North Beach to accommodate the Sari Bair attack force, with the result that the element of surprise was lost and also that the sequence of advance was greatly scrambled. There was no moonlight, the terrain was rough and rocky, maps were poor at best and wrong at worst, and there were no guides. Soldiers and mule trains were asked to advance through uneven, narrow, winding, partly blocked defiles less than one yard in width with cliffs on each side rising as much as 600 feet. In desperation, some units tried to find short-cuts, which slowed them down even more, left them in the wrong place and increased the confusion. Even the highly regarded Australians and Gurkhas couldn’t advance fast enough to meet the ridiculous timetable; they had also been given the longest marches. The order of battle broke down as the inexperienced New Army units were lost, confused and exhausted, and the result was a fiasco, a jumble of ad hoc forces.  

The low hills were cleared but several hours behind schedule and at zero hour on the 7th no assault unit was fully in place. The 1st NZ Brigade, short two battalions still on the way, did launch an attack on Chunuk Bair in the afternoon, which was repulsed with heavy casualties, and served to fully alert the enemy. Later that night, an ad hoc force of a battalion from the 1st NZ plus two battalions from the 13th Division succeeded in capturing part of the summit of the peak. This was to be the high point of the August Offensive. The Gurkhas didn’t get their ad hoc force organized for an assault on Hill Q until the morning of the 10th, and heroically captured the top only to lose it to a fiasco; they were shelled by the Royal Navy ships offshore. The Australians never made it as far as Hill 971. 

Meanwhile, unbelievable events were happening up at Suvla Bay. Stopford had decided to consolidate his forces on the beach before moving to cut the peninsula. While men were fighting and dying on the Sari Bair ridges and in the diversions, Stopford’s men were pitching camp. He had simply decided not to proceed until the 9th, when he would have three divisions. By the time the IX Corps attack began, the Ottomans had moved in massive reinforcements and by nightfall on the 9th IX Corps had been stopped cold short of the Tekke Tepe Ridge. It would get no farther. 

Another fiasco; Stopford was in no way up to the task given him. His career had been spent in staff positions and home commands, and he had retired in 1909. One critic said of him that he had "no conception of what generalship meant." Kitchener had appointed him to IX Corps simply because he was the only Lt. General on the list without a command, over Gen. Hamilton’s strenuous objections.   

"The Farm" in the Foreground, Where Moseley Would Fall

Meanwhile, back at the peaks several units from the New Army brigades had congregated at the head of a ravine called Chailik Dere. Those detached from the left hand assault column had been delayed in getting to Rhododendron Spur and while they waited they were joined by others from the right column. This randomly created ad hoc force became known as Baldwin’s Brigade, as the senior officer on site was the commander of the 38th Brigade, Brig. A.H. Baldwin, but it contained soldiers from all three brigades of the 13th Division and mostly not from the 38th. On the 9th this force was ordered to attack the north side of Chunuk Bair and the south end of Hill Q, but due to disorganization only managed to get as far as the low flat-topped hill directly below the peaks called "The Farm" (See map and photo above). There Baldwin had to detach two battalions to relieve the NZ Mounted Rifles still holding out up on the summit of Chunuk Bair.

Fiasco struck again. On the 10th the stalled offensive against the peaks collapsed. Four regiments of Ottoman troops had been shifted from the Helles Front, and at dawn they counterattacked. Personally led by Col. Mustafa Kemal, 30,000 soldiers charged up the reverse slope of Chunuk Bair, sweeping aside the defending 6th Loyal N Lancs (38th Brigade), and 5th Wilts (40th Brigade), the men that Baldwin had sent up as relief. Kemal’s men then poured down the steep incline to The Farm and smashed into Baldwin’s hapless, bone-weary men, who had not constructed defensive positions. An observer at the Apex position at the base of Rhododendron Spur likened the sight to a “human waterfall.” Baldwin and his entire command post were wiped out, including the 38th Brigade’s signals officer, 27 year old Royal Engineer 2nd Lt. Henry Gwyn Jeffreys Moseley, the most promising English physicist of his generation.

Moseley's Body Was Never Recovered; He Is Listed on
the Helles Memorial, Gallipoli Peninsula

Moseley, familiarly called "Harry," was born into a wealthy, eccentric, scientific family in 1887. His grandfather was the Rev. Canon Henry Moseley, who was also a hydrologist and naval architect, his father was Henry N. Moseley (1844–91), a comparative anatomist and member of the Challenger Expedition (1872-6) who became the second Linacre Professor of Zoology at Oxford (1881–91), and his maternal grandfather John Gwyn Jeffreys (1809–85) was a very successful Welsh solicitor who was passionately interested in mollusks and a member of the Royal Society. Predictably, Harry was encouraged by his mother to study natural sciences, but was led into physical sciences instead. He attended Eton and then went up to Trinity College, Oxford. In his time Oxford was dominated by classical dons and wasn’t a beehive for scientific education or research. In 1909 Harry completed the Officer Training Course, a portentous event. He graduated in 1910 with a Second; to that point Oxford had only awarded one First in physics. 

Harry’s ambition was to go to work at the Victoria University of Manchester, under the great Nobel Laureate Sir Ernest Rutherford. Surprisingly, his application was accepted. Harry wrote to Rutherford: “It will be my great pleasure to work in your laboratory, and after my failure in ‘schools’ I consider myself very lucky to have got the opening which I coveted.” That Harry had a living courtesy of his grandfathers may well have tipped the scales in his favor, but Rutherford would never for a moment regret his choice.

When Harry arrived in the fall of 1910, Rutherford’s laboratory was teeming with groundbreaking discoveries about atomic structure. Since the discovery of the electron in 1897 by Rutherford’s mentor and Nobel Laureate Sir J.J. Thomson at Cambridge, many were working to find all of the sub-atomic particles and learn how they fit together. Two members of Rutherford’s laboratory, Ernest Marsden and Hans Geiger, had been trying to answer this question by bombarding ultra-thin sheets of gold foil with alpha particles, the positively charged particles that Rutherford had found in the decay of radium. Most of the time, the alpha particles would pass through the gold foil, but occasionally one bounced almost straight back. Rutherford later wrote of this experiment “it was the most incredible thing that has ever happened to me. It was almost as if you had fired a 15-inch shell at a piece of tissue paper and it came back and hit you!”

As a result of this research, Rutherford postulated his atomic theory: all of the positive charge and most of the mass of the atom were concentrated in a tiny central core with the electrons orbiting this "nucleus," and most of the atom was empty space. Historian David Kaiser has written “today we take this picture that Rutherford put together for granted, but it was really pretty new in its day. I think the feeling in those hallways, the laboratories of Manchester, must have been one of great excitement. They could sense that Rutherford and his team had literally cracked open a new view of matter.”


In 1912 the University of Manchester physics laboratory headed by Ernest Rutherford (second row center) included Harry Moseley (bottom second from left), Hans Geiger (inventor of the Geiger counter), Charles G. Darwin (grandson of the great biologist) and James Chadwick, who would later win the Nobel Prize for discovering the neutron.

Meanwhile, the newcomer Harry Moseley wasn’t involved in these experiments. He was attempting to replicate the findings of others and, on the side working on Rutherford’s idea of an atomic battery, an idea that would be perfected in the 1950s. In 1912 the Royal Society published Harry’s first paper, on properties of Beta Rays, but when delivery of a piece of equipment was delayed, he used his down time to find a new direction for his research. Learning of the recent German discovery that X-rays could be "diffracted" in much the way light can be broken into a spectrum of colors with different frequencies, Harry teamed with Charles G. Darwin (grandson of the great biologist Charles R. Darwin), and they refined the German results to the extent that the clarity of the spectra allowed atomic structure to become the subject of the experiment, rather than X-rays.

Carrying on without Darwin, Harry then discovered that each element has a unique X-ray diffraction spectrum—like a fingerprint that can identify that element. More surprising, he found a simple relationship between an element’s spectrum and its "atomic number."

Niels Bohr’s theory suggested that it would be atomic number that the X-ray spectra corresponded to, as their energy depended on the outermost electron and the nature of this electron depended on the atomic number. Harry’s research provided the solution. He postulated a theory (later called Moseley’s law) which proved what Bohr had suspected – that the frequency of X-rays is proportional to the atomic charge. The elements could be ordered according to atomic number. Up to then, atomic number had just referred to the number of an element’s box in the Periodic Table. Harry’s work showed it was actually a measure of the positive charge on an atom’s nucleus. In November he published his famous step ladder, showing the increasing frequency of the X-rays from calcium to copper. 


Moseley's First Step Chart 

Building on Harry’s work, Rutherford would soon discover the subatomic particle responsible for this charge—the proton. These discoveries put the Periodic Table in a whole new light. Its author, Dmitri Mendeleev, had relied on atomic weight in building the table, but Moseley and Rutherford showed the table’s foundation is actually atomic number: Each element in the table has one more proton in its nucleus than the element before it. 

Incredibly, just by using his X-ray spectroscope, Harry could quickly determine whether a sample contained a new element or was a compound of known elements. “He could distinguish between types of matter, with a brand new technique, not dependent on their chemical properties, but by measuring their atomic numbers based on these X-rays,” Kaiser says.

Harry was able to solve Mendeleev's problem of the “rare earths,” certain elements whose properties were so similar that they had confounded chemists. “Moseley, who couldn’t tell one rare earth from another, had this wonderful machine that could tell whether or not the specimen in question had the right credentials to be a new element,” says biographer John Heilbron.

And perhaps his most electrifying finding: Harry could tell exactly how many elements remained to be discovered —and where they would fall in the Periodic Table. “The idea that somebody could know how many elements God created—that was terrific,” Heilbron says.

In a few short years Harry had set forth the basis for the modern periodic table, predicted the elements that would fill in the gaps and showed that x-rays could be a supreme analytical tool. Few achieve in a lifetime of research what he achieved in a career of just 40 months.

Joseph Nordgren of Uppsala University in Sweden thinks Harry could have counted on a Nobel Prize. He was actually a nominee for the 1914 prize for Physics. It is also striking that no prize for Physics was awarded for 1916.  Strangely, Nordgren says, the 1924 prize for Physics was awarded to Manne Siegbahn, who didn’t make a tangible discovery. “Siegbahn’s improvements made other discoveries possible. But if you want to find a distinct discovery … it’s very hard.” This was discussed by the committee of 1924, before they eventually awarded Siegbahn the prize anyway. His improvements, impressive as they were, were built on the work of Moseley. Nordgren contends that Siegbahn got Harry’s Nobel. 

Commemorative Plaque, Oxford University

Harry was tragically unlucky in that he came of age in an era when war was considered an adventure rather than a catastrophe. Rutherford later wrote in a newspaper article: “It is a national tragedy that our military organization at the start was so inelastic as to be unable, with a few exceptions, to utilize the offers of services of our scientific men except as combatants in the firing line. Our regret for the untimely death of Moseley is all the more poignant because we recognize that his services would have been far more useful to his country in one of the numerous fields of scientific inquiry rendered necessary by the war than by the exposure to the chances of a Turkish bullet.” 

For more please see:

Heilbron, J.L.  The Life and Letters of an English Physicist 1887-1915 University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles: 1974. The definitive work about Moseley, although some parts are difficult reading for non-physicists.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Ten Quotes About the Treaty of Versailles

1.  In Versailles, at dinner, Balfour told Nicolson that after the official opening of the Conference, Balfour walked down the steps with Clemenceau. A.J.B. wore a top hat: Clemenceau wore a bowler. A.J.B. apologized for his top hat. "I was told," he said, "that it was obligatory to wear one." "So," said Clemenceau, "was I."

Charles L. Mee, 1981

2.  [T}his meeting signifies for us the end of this terrible war, which threatened to destroy civilization and the world itself. It is a delightful sensation for us to feel that we are meeting at a moment when this terrible menace has ceased to exist

Woodrow Wilson, Opening Address, 18 January 1919

3.  If it is said that the war is won, it would perhaps be more accurate to say that there is a lull in the storm. At the very least, it is necessary to provide for all eventualities. Recent discoveries have enabled us to pierce the enemy's designs to a greater extent than hitherto. They were not merely a dream of military domination on the part of Prussia, but a definite conspiracy expressly aiming at the extermination of France.

George Clemenceau, Interview, 9 February 1919

4. I was one of the millions who trusted confidently and implicitly in your leadership and believed that you would take nothing less than ‘a permanent peace’ based on ‘unselfish and unbiased justice,’” wrote Bullitt. “But our government has consented now to deliver the suffering peoples of the world to new oppressions, subjections, dismemberments—a new century of war., upon reading the draft treaty, 

Resignation statement of  

U.S. Peace Commissioner William C. Bullitt, 7 May 1919

5.  Those insolent Germans made me very angry yesterday. I don't know when I have been more angry. Their conduct showed that the old German is still there. Your Brockdorff-Rantzaus will ruin Germany's chances of reconstruction. But the strange thing is that the Americans and ourselves felt more angry than the French and Italians. I asked old Clemenceau why. He said, "Because we are accustomed to their insolence. We have had to bear it for fifty years. It is new to you and therefore it makes you angry"

David Lloyd George, 8 May 1919 (Quoted in Lord Riddell's Diary)

6.  The great day of Versailles has come. The victorious peace will be signed in the Hall of Mirrors on Saturday, June 28. The government wishes the ceremony to have the character and austerity that goes with the memory of the grief and sufferings of our country. Nevertheless, public buildings will be decorated and illuminated. The citizens will surely follow this example.

All measures to preserve order have been taken by the government: the public is asked to conform to them for the successful outcome of the ceremony.

The day of Versailles will take place as should such a great day in the world's history.

Mayor of Versailles, Henri Simon, 28 June 1919

7.  Today...the disgraceful Treaty is being signed...The German people will... reconquer the place among the nations to which it is entitled.

Editorial, Deutsche Zeitung, 28 June 1919

8.  This is not a Peace. It is an Armistice for twenty years.

Marshal Ferdinand Foch, 1919

No political party can acquire any driving force except through hatred; it must hold someone to obloquy. If so-and-so’s wickedness is the sole cause of our misery, let us punish so-and-so and we shall be happy. The supreme example of this kind of political thought was the Treaty of Versailles. 

Bertrand Russell,  1928

10.  We were preparing not Peace only, but Eternal Peace. There was about us the halo of some divine mission. We were bent on doing great, permanent noble things.

Sir Harold Nicolson, British delegate to the Peace Conference, 1933

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Eleven Months to Freedom: A German POW's Unlikely Escape from Siberia

By Dwight R. Messimer.
Naval Institute Press, 2016
Michael Kihntopf, Reviewer

Stories about prisoner of war escapes are always much sought after. All of us can name multiple titles which gave inspiration to us about the underdog outsmarting the cruel captors. For myself, I enjoyed Dragon Master: The Kaiser’s One-Man Air Force in Tsingtau, China 1914 (by Robert E. Whitaker, Compass Books, 1994) which chronicled the escape of German Navy Lieutenant Gunther Plüschow from the Japanese and the British. But this story rivals the Plüschow saga.

Erich Killinger, 1914

Dwight Messimer, former lecturer in history at San Jose State University and army veteran, has given Great War aficionados another saga to add to the many stories of extraordinary daring. In this work, the author vividly portrays German midshipman Erich Killinger’s escape from Russian captivity in Siberia—a feat which borders on the impossible.

Erich Killinger grew up in the Grand Duchy of Baden. His father was a member of the privy council to Grand Duke Friedrich I of Baden. Although not part of the nobility, his family did rank itself among the elite. Killinger was groomed at a young age to honor and obey the state. A path in the army would have been expected of him, but instead he sought a position with the budding Kriegsmarine or navy. In 1913, after studying law and economics at Kings College in London and the University of Heidelberg, Killinger entered the Imperial Navy’s officers’ school.

Training was supposed to last for nearly a year but the declaration of war in August 1914 interrupted his training and he was sent to a squadron that patrolled Germany’s Baltic coast. The assignment was not to his liking in that it was too far from the action. A way out was to volunteer for the fledgling Imperial Navy’s air arm, which consisted of heavier and lighter than air aircraft. Killinger was slated to be an observer and was sent to school in September 1914.

Killinger, after graduating, found himself in an unarmed Rumpler 4B-II along the Livonian (Latvia) coast performing both reconnaissance and bombing raids. Finally, he was near the action and participating in it. High in the clouds he had reason to be content, but navy aircraft, and airplanes in general at the time, were fragile things. On 6 April 1915, while Killinger and his pilot were returning to their home base near Memel, the Rumpler lost its propeller which destroyed one of the landing pontoons in its arc to the sea.

Killinger’s pilot successfully executed a water landing despite the damaged landing gear and the two were perched on the one remaining pontoon. Swimming to land was not an option in the freezing Baltic water. Besides, the land was garrisoned by the Russian Army. The crew decided to stay with the half-sunk machine until a German search party might come along. Just how long that would be was anyone’s guess but it was not to be. Instead, a rowboat manned by Russian soldiers showed up first and took the crew prisoner.

German POWs in Siberia

Killinger and his pilot, after a rough interrogation in which they were threatened with hanging or a firing squad, were bundled into the prisoner of war pipeline that entailed a lengthy journey along the Trans-Siberian railway to camps far to the east. The author’s description of POW camps is detailed and extremely interesting. All along the way Killinger planned escapes, but the sheer vastness of Siberia deterred his ambitions until the train they were on neared the Manchurian border. He and three other prisoners launched themselves off the train and into the Chinese snow to begin a trek of hundreds of kilometers to Mukden. The cold was intense and their clothing inadequate, but the real problem was finding food among what could have been a hostile population. China, at the time, was neutral; however, the Russian and Japanese armies controlled most of Manchuria and offered a reward for escapees.

Killinger and his group walked across Manchuria, trading their uniform buttons for food at friendly villages. Finally, at Mukden, Killinger entered a German network of safe houses which successfully got him to Shanghai. It was there that he was given a choice of routes that he could take to get back to Germany. He could go west crossing into Russia again or east across the Pacific and the United States. Another trip through Russia was not to Killinger’s liking, although his three companions chose that way. He chose the other.

Messimer’s narrative of Killinger’s route across the Pacific and through America is extremely interesting to say the least. There are many times when Killinger was nearly turned in because he ignored instructions to keep a low profile, but eventually he made it to New York where the pipeline ended. From there he had to be resourceful on his own. Getting across the Atlantic was far more difficult.

Eleven Months to Freedom is a saga that rivals the Odyssey. It is at times riveting and at other times frustrating in that Killinger’s actions showed his bullheadedness and rashness (perhaps due to class arrogance) to heed advice. It is of little wonder that when he finally got back to Germany, he was hard pressed to convince the authorities that he really was an escaped German naval officer. This book goes on my shelf next to Dragon Master.

Michael Kihntopf

Editor's Note:  Erich Killinger returned to military service prior to the Second World War. After his commissioning in the Luftwaffe, he was found too old to fly, and was—either intentionally or ironically—assigned to command a prisoner of war camp.  His methods were deemed brutal, and he was convicted of war crimes afterwards, serving a five-year sentence. One wonders if he contemplated any escape effort while he was serving his time. Below is a photo of him during the war at his camp. MH

Erich Killinger, Center

Monday, November 28, 2022

Brilliant Dipolomacy by a General: Maude's Proclamation of Baghdad

General Maude Leads British Troops into Baghdad,
11 March 1917

The following proclamation was issued to the inhabitants of Baghdad on 19 March 1917, by Lieut. General Sir Stanley Maude (1864–1917), shortly after the occupation of the city by British forces. The city had been captured from the occupying Turkish forces of the Ottoman Empire by the British Army, using mainly troops from India, just a few days previously. That was the high point of the Mesopotamian Campaign, the “forgotten” theatre of the First World War.  Maude was a very shrewd individual who knew just how to charm and flatter the people of Mesopotamia, as modern Iraq was then known, while asserting Britain’s rights over territories that had vast oil reserves.   After the withdrawal from Gallipoli, Maude was then sent to take over the less-than-successful British forces in Mesopotamia in 1916 after the disastrous defeat at the Siege of Kut. He proved to be an inspirational leader, reorganising the whole campaign and leading the so-called Samarrah Offensive which led to the Turks of the Ottoman Empire retreating en masse. Sadly, he died of cholera in November 1917.  British and American need for oil came to dictate all policies in the region. Maude’s wise words were forgotten.

The Proclamation of Baghdad

19 March 1917

Lieutenant General Sir Stanley Maude

To the People of Baghdad Vilayet: 

In the name of my King, and in the name of the peoples over whom he rules, I address you as follow:- 

Our military operations have as their object the defeat of the enemy, and the driving of him from these territories. In order to complete this task, I am charged with absolute and supreme control of all regions in which British troops operate; but our armies do not come into your cities and lands as conquerors or enemies, but as liberators. Since the days of Halaka your city and your lands have been subject to the tyranny of strangers, your palaces have fallen into ruins, your gardens have sunk in desolation, and your forefathers and yourselves have groaned in bondage. Your sons have been carried off to wars not of your seeking, your wealth has been stripped from you by unjust men and squandered in distant places. 

Since the days of Midhat, the Turks have talked of reforms, yet do not the ruins and wastes of today testify the vanity of those promises? 

It is the wish not only of my King and his peoples, but it is also the wish of the great nations with whom he is in alliance, that you should prosper even as in the past, when your lands were fertile, when your ancestors gave to the world literature, science, and art, and when Baghdad city was one of the wonders of the world. 

Between your people and the dominions of my King there has been a close bond of interest. For 200 years have the merchants of Baghdad and Great Britain traded together in mutual profit and friendship. On the other hand, the Germans and the Turks, who have despoiled you and yours, have for 20 years made Baghdad a centre of power from which to assail the power of the British and the Allies of the British in Persia and Arabia. Therefore the British Government cannot remain indifferent as to what takes place in your country now or in the future, for in duty to the interests of the British people and their Allies, the British Government cannot risk that being done in Baghdad again which has been done by the Turks and Germans during the war. 

But you people of Baghdad, whose commercial prosperity and whose safety from oppression and invasion must ever be a matter of the closest concern to the British Government, are not to understand that it is the wish of the British Government to impose upon you alien institutions. It is the hope of the British Government that the aspirations of your philosophers and writers shall be realised and that once again the people of Baghdad shall flourish, enjoying their wealth and substance under institutions which are in consonance with their sacred laws and their racial ideals. In Hedjaz the Arabs have expelled the Turks and Germans who oppressed them and proclaimed the Sherif Hussein as their King, and his Lordship rules in independence and freedom, and is the ally of the nations who are fighting against the power of Turkey and Germany; so indeed are the noble Arabs, the Lords of Koweyt, Nejd, and Asir. 

General Maude

Many noble Arabs have perished in the cause of Arab freedom, at the hands of those alien rulers, the Turks, who oppressed them. It is the determination of the Government of Great Britain and the great Powers allied to Great Britain that these noble Arabs shall not have suffered in vain. It is the hope and desire of the British people and the nations in alliance with them that the Arab race may rise once more to greatness and renown among the peoples of the earth, and that it shall bind itself together to this end in unity and concord. 

O people of Baghdad remember that for 26 generations you have suffered under strange tyrants who have ever endeavoured to set on Arab house against another in order that they might profit by your dissensions. This policy is abhorrent to Great Britain and her Allies, for there can be neither peace nor prosperity where there is enmity and misgovernment. Therefore I am commanded to invite you, through your nobles and elders and representatives, to participate in the management of your civil affairs in collaboration with the political representatives of Great Britain who accompany the British Army, so that you may be united with your kinsmen in North, East, South, and West in realising the aspirations of your race. 

Sunday, November 27, 2022

From Freeport, Illinois, to Siberia, and Back — Three Doughboys Remember Their Adventure

AEF Siberia

By Duncan Birdsell, Journal-Standard City Editor, Freeport, Illinois, 1972

Their numbers around Freeport have dwindled to a handful. They are the ex-Doughboys, who back in the final tumultuous days of World War I were tucked away in a remote corner of the world while the Allies beat the German Hun into submission. Jog the memories of Clement Clarke, Harry Hoyman, and Fred Niemeier these days, when the winter cold nips the air and the news wires are full of President Nixon's impending visits to Peking and Moscow. The three retired men, all in their 70s, were part of a somewhat bizarre role played by America's soldiers in World War I. In a sense, they and some 7000 fellow American troops were the forgotten men of their times. Their lot was not the flaming battlefields of St. Mihiel, Chateau-Thierry, and the Meuse-Argonne in France.  


The three veterans interviewed for this 1972 article:

Harry Hoyman:
Born February 20, 1892 died May 1, 1989
Fred Niemeier:
Born January 2, 1896 died May 1974 
Clem Clarke:
Born November 3, 1898 died August 1981
All died in Freeport, Illinois. 



Their story hinged on the railroad tracks that cut through the wastelands of Eastern Siberia— places like Khabarovsk, Spasskoe, and Verkhne-Udinsk, where the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) Siberia, were sent to aid Allied troops and secure the Trans-Siberian Railroad and Allied war material after the collapse of the Czarist regime in Russia. "When we went over there, we called ourselves 'the American Exiled Forces, Siberia'." laughs Clarke.

Guarding Railroads Was a Primary Mission

Hoyman draws a parallel to the present arguments about the American role in Vietnam. "Those fellows in Vietnam think they had the original experience," Hoyman reflects. "I didn't know why I was over there in Siberia until I got home."

Historians are still trying to assess the American role in Siberia during the 20 months from August 1918 to April 1920 when the last troops left Vladivostok. The Doughboys were under orders to walk a tightrope with the intrigue and brutality of Cossack leaders vying for power among themselves and with the Bolsheviks (Communists) in the leadership vacuum of Russia.

Other Allied troops in Siberia, the English, Japanese, French, and Czechs, were often pushing national interests. The Americans had been sent to aid the Czechs in leaving Siberia to join the other Allies on the Western Front, but the Czechs showed no yen to depart.


As often happens in the fortunes of war, Clarke, Hoyman, and Niemeier and some 50 other Freeport area soldiers had no idea that Siberia was their destination when they entered the service. "I grew up in Tama, Iowa, and enlisted back in 1916 when I was 17 years old, drove down to the Mexican border and fight Pancho Villa," said Clarke. Visions of Mexico disappeared for Clarke while he was at Ft. Logan, Colorado. He recalls the drill sergeant "telling us we could go to the Philippines and drink ice water or go to the border and drink sand, so we all went to the Philippines."

Surprised to Be in Siberia

Clarke had been in Manila for about a year when the message came that sent Clarke and some 1600 men of the 27th Infantry Regiment from the tropics to the Siberian icebox in August 1918.

Clarke's Company M docked at Vladivostok and was immediately put to work guarding Allied equipment at the harbor before spending two weeks as a flank for a Japanese force fighting the Bolsheviks.


For Hoyman and Niemeier, their Siberian odyssey began at Camp Fremont, California. Both men had been drafted in May 1918 at Freeport and gone to the camp with other Freeport area men to learn trench warfare as infantry replacements in France. "We didn't know where we were going until we got on the train at Fremont to take us to the boat," Niemeier said. "I never heard of Siberia until I got over there."

Both Hoyman and Niemeier set foot on Russian soil at Vladivostok on 2 September 1918, after a two-and-a-half-week troop ship passage across the Pacific. "We were put to guarding the railroad," Hoyman said. "I remember that it rained every day. We later met up with the 27th (Infantry) who had been fighting the Bolsheviks."

That winter of 1918-19 for the Freeporters revolved around a set of barracks at Khabarovsk once used by the Czarists during the Russian-Japanese War of 1895 period. Khabarovsk was an important rail center on the Amur River, along the Manchuria border, located 400 miles up the railroad from Vladivostok.


"Cold? It was colder than hell," recalls Clarke, in reference to nights when the outside temperature sank to 50 and 60 below. "No matter how cold, we'd get outside during the day to drill, exercise, and practice firing," Clarke said. But the troops were well fitted to combat the cold, all three agreed. "We had the best wool clothes there were, regular snow packs and lambskin lined coats," Niemeier observed. Hoyman remembers the Russian natives saying that the Americans would freeze to death in the barracks, but the Yankees quickly devised a good circulation system for the wood burning stoves.


One startling experience shook the Americans that bitter winter. One Sunday afternoon at dusk, with the temperature over 50 below the compound quiet was shattered by the approach of more than 500 Cossack soldiers who were seeking protection from reprisal after their bloody coup against their officers was unsuccessful. Clarke retains today a dog-eared diary which describes the night, when his company was awakened from standby duty. "Was awakened at 2 a.m. by a whistle and someone flashing a lantern in my face," he wrote. "I dressed hurriedly as the whole company was preparing for something. We were ordered outside and hiked to the YMCA. There were about 600 Cossacks who had deserted Kalmikoff and come to us for protection."

The surprised Americans let the deserters build big bonfires within the compound to stay warm through the night and stood guard to protect them.


About 2000 armed and menacing supporters of Kalmikoff gathered during the late night and morning to demand the return of the deserters. The American commander stood firm, refused to surrender them, and later arranged for the safe conduct of the deserters to distant points in Manchuria.

Hoyman remembers a nerve-wracking incident that followed after the deserters were turned loose. "We had to send a guard of honor, detail of about 100 men, to the funeral of Cossack leaders the deserters had shot," Hoyman said. "Our captain told us he didn't know if we'd get our heads shot off or not. Fortunately, the Cossacks didn't take it out on us. They fired a salute at the cemetery and that was it."

Working with the Red Cross in Siberia


While American soldiers were returning to civilian life in the spring and summer of 1919, the AEF in Siberia scattered to widely separated points along the railroad. Clarke's unit wound up far inland near the shores of Lake Baikal after a long train ride through Manchuria. "We had our mules on the train. Every time we turned them loose for exercise we had a heck of a time getting them back in," Clarke laughed.

Company M set up camp along the railroad using the abundant fir trees of the area for tent sideboards. Two basketball backboards were erected in a grassy area in front of the tents. The Americans guarded the tracks from sabotage but generally remained aloof from the Russian internal conflict. Clarke remembers seeing one train loaded with 3000 presumed Bolshevik prisoners who were reported taken from the train and slain. Every week the Americans would walk the 20 miles from their camp to a nearby town checking the trackage.

Although far from home and two months by mail, that area of Siberia did offer diversions. "You could go back of the camp, put a net in the stream, and pull out all the trout you'd want," Clarke said. "There were a lot of brown bear around and an awful lot of deer, just terrific. We lived high on the hog."

Clarke returned to the United States in September 1919 after a run-in with an officer, was furloughed to the reserves, and discharged in June 1920.


During the summer of 1919, Niemeier's unit, Company H of the 27th Infantry was moved back closer to Vladivostok to the town of Spasskoe, where they guarded the railroad. "It was pretty quiet," Niemeier recalls. "Several times someone got into a railroad engine and wrecked some cars. I'd ride some sentry duty on trains."

Niemeier was relieved of duty on 7 December 1919 and remembers the date still because the temperature was about 15 degrees below zero. He returned shortly to the United States where he and Freeporter Ira Sprague were discharged in January 1920 at the Presidio in San Francisco, California.

Some of the other Allied and captured enemy troops which were in Siberia provide Hoyman with some of his most vivid memories. The Freeporter spent the summer of 1919 at Verkhne-Udinsk far in the Siberian interior with a supply unit of the 27th Infantry.


"We had a track meet that summer with some Czechs. I don't know if they ever got home to their own county," Hoyman said. "Then another time we heard a grand opera performed by a band of captured Austrian soldiers." he continued. "They lacked two bass horns so we loaned them the instruments. Our soldiers sat on the edge of their seats for three hours and drank in the music. And you know how soldiers are."

Czech Legionnaires on Parade

Granted the limited number and long distances between the American troops, what accounted for the relatively few attacks on them by the Bolsheviks and sometimes hostile Cossacks, Hoyman believes that the respect for America and its potential was a key. "We carried the American flag with us and I bet a few bucks that's why we're here today," he said.

The trio of Americans brought back some pleasant impressions of the Russian peasants along with the customary wartime souvenirs, which they still have tucked in spots around their homes.


"The Russian peasants were just like anyone else. They'd been trampled on and they'd appreciate anything you'd give them," Niemeier recalls. "They were always friendly to you, at least 95 percent of them."

Hoyman remembers the Russian civilians as "just ordinary people who had no conception of what was going on in the world." Their poverty was typified to him by constant presence of women and children begging outside the Americans' tents, even when the winter temperatures fell to 60 degrees below.

At one time the Siberian veterans of the Freeport and Rockford areas would gather regularly for meetings, but they were discontinued in the early 1940s. If they have the chance would the Freeporters want to return, if briefly, to the Siberian lands? "If they could fly me over and fly me back immediately, "I'd do it," exclaimed Hoyman. "I tell you, that climate over there. At night you could almost reach up and grab a star it was so clear."

Niemeier has no desire to return. "I still think about those days quite often. I would take a million for what I heard and saw, but I wouldn't give a nickel to go through it again," he said.

For Clarke, Siberia today has plenty of allure. "Go there again? I sure would." he exclaims. "I'd be very much interested. I read articles awhile ago by a fellow from the Chicago Tribune who traveled across Siberia and I have a notion to write him."

Sources and Thanks:

Friend and contributor Alice Horner, once a citizen of Freeport, Illinois, found this article.