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

Monday, July 23, 2018

Losing the War: The Beginning of the End for Germany

German Infantry Marching to War in 1914
Their Ranks Would Be Depleted by 1918

By Jeffrey P. Ricker, CFA

Germany’s last desperate push to win the Great War stalled at the Marne 100 years ago, 17 July 1918.  Five giant offensives, attacking with more guns and men than had ever been used before failed to break the Allied defense and force a peace.  What went wrong?

Quite simply:  Germany ran out of men.  

In the spring of 1918, German commanders Erich Ludendorff and Paul von Hindenburg plotted a decisive breakthrough.  Their many years of experience went into designing a new “package” of trench-busting techniques.  With few tanks and dwindling air support, attacks had to be done with overwhelming numbers of guns and men.  This was Germany’s last chance to win the war.  Fifty German divisions, a million men, were transferred to the Western Front after Russia quit.  For the first time since 1914 the German army outnumbered its opponents on the Western Front.  It was now or never because the U.S. Army would begin arriving in large numbers in the summer of 1918 and the opportunity would be lost.

The spring offensives initially stunned the British and French armies, and the world, as three-and-a-half years of deadlocked trench warfare suddenly changed into a war of movement over open ground.  Desperate fighting stopped each offensive short of their objective.  Instead, Germany gained thousands of square miles of hard to defend, strategically worthless ground, which had been devastated by years of conflict.  German progress came at a heavy price. Though forced to retreat again and again, the British and French Armies fought fierce rearguard actions as they withdrew; the Germans encountered major difficulties bringing up artillery and ammunition over wrecked battlefields to keep the offensives going.

Casualties on both sides were enormous, about 700,000 German and 900,000 Allied.  German offensives sometimes cost tens of thousands of men per day. The Allies, especially with the American influx, could replace lost men.  Germany could not. With the strategic initiative shifting to the Allies, the beginning of the end of the Great War began. 

The chart below quantifies the carnage.

Chart Source: U.S. War Department General Staff report “The War with Germany” 1919

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Why Is An American General's Statue in Budapest?

General Bandholtz
The statue in the center of the park on Szabadság tér, facing the Embassy, is that of Harry Hill Bandholtz (1864–1925), Bg. General, U.S. Army, who was Provost Marshal to General Pershing at the end of World War I. A West Pointer, Bandholtz had seen much service in the Philippines and originally deployed to France as a brigade commander for the 29th Division.

On 11 August5 1919, General Bandholtz arrived in Budapest as one of four generals (English, French, Italian, American) to become the Inter-Allied Control Commission for Hungary, primarily to supervise the disengagement of Romanian troops from Hungary.

He became famous when, on the night of 5 October 1919, as president of the Day of the Commission, mainly through bluff, armed only with a riding crop, he prevented a group of Romanian soldiers from removing Transylvanian treasures from the National Museum.

The statue was erected in 1936, and stood throughout World War II with the inscription, in English,

“I simply carried out the instructions of my Government, as I understood them, as an officer and a gentleman of the United States Army.”

In the late 1940s the statue was removed “for repair.” It lay in a statue boneyard until the 1980s, at which time it was placed in the garden of the U.S. ambassador’s residence, at the request of then-ambassador Salgo. It was re-placed in Szabadság tér at its original location in July 1989, just a few days before the visit of President Bush.

The new inscription on the back reads:

“General Harry Hill Bandholtz, head of the American Military Mission, who on October 5, 1919 blocked the removal of the treasures of the National Museum to Romania.”

Source:  U.S. Embassy, Budapest, Hungary

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Gas Warfare: Prelude to the Second Battle of Ypres

Fritz Faber: Gas Warfare's Most
Notable Advocate and Innovator
Although it is popularly believed that the German Army was the first to use gas in the Great War, the French fired a tear gas agent (ethyl bromoacetate) against the Germans in the first month of the war. The German Army, however, had done more serious prewar research and would soon begin using their chemical weapons. Eventually they would be the war's first combatant to use gas on a scale large enough to potentially influence the outcome of a battle.

As early as October 1914, at Neuve Chapelle, the Germans used a sneeze-inducing irritant against the French. Better known is their effort on the Eastern Front at Bolimov on 31 January 1915 when they fired shells containing tear gas against the Russians. The experiment failed as the chemical, which was in liquid form in the shells, failed to vaporize in the freezing weather. Further attempts were made on the Western Front with improved tear gas, but German chemical warfare was receiving a tremendous boost due to the contributions of one of the world's most distinguished chemists and would soon take a dramatically different course.

In December 1914, the director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physical Chemistry and future recipient of the Nobel Prize, Fritz Haber, pointed out to the army that chlorine gas, a powerful respiratory irritant, would be a much more effective weapon. He was subsequently appointed chief of the chemical section of the war ministry and soon took over leadership of the chlorine project. Haber would eventually emerge as Germany's chief authority on chemical warfare matters. Due to his impressive credentials, he was able to recruit a scientific "all-star" team to support Germany's gas warfare that included other future Nobel Prize laureates James Franck, Gustav Hertz, and Otto Hahn.

Artist's Rendering of the First Gas Attack on the Western Front

In a January conference, agreement was reached that the first trial for chlorine gas would be in Flanders on the southeastern side of the Ypres Salient. The deployment was subsequently shifted to the northern boundary of the salient between Steenstraete and Poelcappelle. The gas attack, with Haber present in the field, was scheduled for 15 April but was delayed a week because of a complete lack of wind. The debut of the poisonous chlorine gas would come on 22 April 1915 in the action known today as the Second Battle of Ypres. It would initially target French Territorial and Algerian troops with Canadian troops on their right (eastern) flank. Further use of the gas followed during the fighting around Ypres. 

Friday, July 20, 2018

Who Was Dragutin Dimitrijević?

Dragutin Dimitrijević, byname Apis (“Holy Bull”), (born 17 August 1876, Belgrade, Serbia—died 27 June 1917, Thessaloníki, Greece), Serbian army officer and conspirator, leader of the Serbian secret society Crna Ruka (“Black Hand”).

1915 Photo

A young army officer and already a member of the Serbian general staff, Dimitrijević in 1901 initiated an officers’ conspiracy to assassinate the unpopular king Alexander Obrenović. The plan was finally carried out in June 1903. Soon thereafter the conspirators succeeded in bringing the army under their control. As a professor of tactics at the military academy, Dimitrijević exerted considerable influence over his students, and he fostered Serbian nationalistic activity abroad. More significantly, he was also a founding member (1911) and inspirational leader of the nationalistic secret society Ujedinjenje ili Smrt (“Union or Death”), better known as the Black Hand, which sought to create a Greater Serbia through the use of violence. Dimitrijević is considered to have played an important role in plotting the assassination of the Austrian archduke Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo .

In 1913 Dimitrijević had been appointed chief of general staff intelligence in the Serbian army, and in 1916 he won promotion to colonel. Soon afterward, however, the Black Hand society was marked for elimination by the Serbian premier Nikola Pašić, and in May 1917 Dimitrijević was sentenced to death with six other officers and was executed. He was exonerated of all charges at a staged retrial at Belgrade in 1953.

Source:  Britannica Biography

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Brothels at War

By Tony Langley

Here are two photos taken during the Great War showing brothels for soldiers. Both were taken on the Eastern Front, though of course such activity and establishments were to found in every theater of war.

This is a photo of a mobile brothel as used by the Austrian Army.
The sign designates it as "Mobile Pleasure House Number 20—For Officers Only."

Such photos are, however, not easy to find. Obviously, virtually none were published in the mainstream media—except for one example here in which the photo editor must have been extremely naive or having a private joke. Most photos of brothels, sex workers, and the like were published in the postwar period in various pacifist, anti-militarist books edited by the German activist Ernst Friedrich (1894–1967). Krieg dem Kriege  (Make War Against War) was essentially a collection of horrific photos that intended to show the horrors of war to the general public. The images were generally provided by veterans sympathetic to the anti-war cause and were often private souvenir photos taken during the war years. Some were also purloined from military or hospital archives. They showed mass graves, trenches filled with the dead, decomposing bodies on battlefields, horrific wounds, executions and hangings, and also a number of photos of brothels that were set up to cater to the needs of German and Austrian soldiers. By including these photos in a militant anti-war publication, Friedrich meant to show the demoralizing and socially debilitating effect of all aspects of warfare to the general public. 

This photo appeared, by mistake no doubt, in a German family news magazine called Die Woche (The Week). The caption announces the building as a "teahouse" in the Galician city of Lida, whose friendly attendants warmly welcome our soldiers. Upon a second look, there seem to be quite a number of young waitresses for such a rundown-looking establishment. Besides, on the Eastern Front, coffee or tea houses were virtually synonymous with brothels. The photo editor was either quite naive to let this photo appear in a family magazine or else having a private joke. In any case, it is one of the very few photos of a brothel ever to appear in print in the regular media during the war.

There were also several French interwar publications advertised as showing for the first time "Secret Images from the War". Often the imagery was taken from Friedrich's publications, which, as anti-war material, were freely and widely distributed in countless formats and sizes. Oddly enough, though, as if in keeping with the wartime tendency of vilifying the German enemy, no photos of French or other Allied nation brothels or bawdy houses were used. This even though, as everyone knew, prostitution in France (and Belgium) was completely legal and regulated by laws and ordinances.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

100 Years Ago: Foch Launches the First Great Allied Offensive of 1918

The Offensive Phase of the Second Battle of the Marne

1st Division on the Eve of the Attack

In the first days of July 1918 it became apparent that the Germans would be unable to launch more than one other great attack, and toward the 10th of the month it was believed certain that if the enemy attacked, the blow would fall in Champagne. Foch was sure he had deployed sufficient forces to arrest the attack and did so in both Champagne and along the Marne River.

Thanks to the arrival of American troops, the Allied reserves were now sufficiently numerous to justify a counterattack, and if, as every high command was confident, the Champagne front could hold with the troops already allotted to it, the Allied command retained complete freedom in the selection of the front upon which the counterattack should fall. The selection by the Germans of Champagne and the eastern face of the Marne salient, as the fronts on which they were to make their last effort was fortunate for the Allies, for this decision of the enemy allowed an Allied counterattack which, while affording immediate relief to the enemy's thrust, would also obtain other advantages for the Allied cause.

Paris is still France, and the approach of the German lines along the Marne toward Paris had caused apprehension throughout France; it was essential that the threat on Paris be relieved at the earliest possible moment. Aside from reasons of morale, purely material reasons also demanded the reduction of the Marne salient as the first task of the Allies when the offensive should pass to their hands. Paris contained a multitude of essential war industries, and so long as the Germans maintained their lines these industries were seriously hampered by the constant long range bombardments and air raids. The great east and west railroad through Chateau-Thierry must also be regained by the Allies as a first necessity in the troop movements required in any general offensive.

But while with each day there came increased certainty that the Allied counterattack could be properly launched to the north of Chateau-Thierry, and while the French armies on that front began to plan accordingly, the Allied resources were not sufficiently great to permit a final decision until after the actual launching of the hostile attack. It thus happened that only on the 16th could many of the actual preparations be commenced.

The general plan for the Allied counterattack of 18 July involved attacking the entire west face of the Marne salient. This main attack was first to pivot on Chateau-Thierry; later the Allies in the region of Chateau-Thierry were to take up the attack. The Allies were also to attack that part of the German salient south of the Marne and to the southwest of Reims. The plan then really involved attacking the entire Marne salient, the principal blow falling at first on the west face, with the critical point, at which eventual success or failure would be determined, southwest of Soissons. The three divisions selected to break the most sensitive part of the German line were the 2nd American, the 1st Moroccan (French) and the 1st American. If these three divisions could seize and hold the heights south of Soissons, the German position in the salient proper would become untenable and its ultimate reduction assured.

At 4:35 a.m. on 18 July, after some of the American infantry had double-timed into line and when some of their guns had barely gotten into position, the 1st and 2nd American Divisions and the 1st Moroccan Division jumped off. Notwithstanding their desperate resistance, the Germans were driven back and the results upon which ultimate success depended were secured.

The 2nd Division advanced eight kilometers in the first 26 hours, took about 3,000 prisoners, two batteries of 150mm guns, 66 light guns, and 15,000 rounds of 77mm ammunition, besides much other property. This division suffered some 4,000 casualties, having made exhausting marches to reach the battlefield and recently been withdrawn from its desperate fighting at Chateau-Thierry, the division was relieved after the second day.

The 1st Division suffered 7,000 casualties, of whom it is believed not one was a prisoner. Sixty per cent of its infantry officers were killed or wounded, in the 16th and 18th Infantry all field officers, except the colonels, were casualties. Notwithstanding its losses, the 1st Division, by constant attacks throughout four days and nights, had broken through the entrenchment's in the German pivot to a depth of 11 kilometers, had captured 68 field guns and quantities of other material, in addition to 3,500 prisoners taken from the seven separate German divisions which had been thrown against the 1st United States Division in the enemy's desperate effort to hold ground which was essential to his retaining the Marne salient.

But while the work of the 1st and 2nd Divisions attracted most attention because of the special importance of their attack, they were not the only American divisions to participate in the 18 July offensive. (A little south of the 2nd Division, units 4th Division had been separated and were in line with French divisions. They joined in the attack and continued to advance until 22 July. The 4th Division was subsequently re-assembled as a division and would relieve the 42nd Division in the salient on 2 August.) The 26th Division was just northwest of Chateau-Thierry and together with the 167th French Division formed the 1st American Corps, which was the first American corps to exercise tactical command. This corps acted as a pivot in the beginning and later had to advance under peculiarly difficult conditions. For the 26th Division, maneuver was much complicated in order that the front of the division might conform to the general plan; not only was it necessary for the division to pivot during attack, but also at one time, the right half of the division had to attack simultaneously in two directions.

Notwithstanding the difficult nature of its task, and the fact that it lost 5,300 officers and soldiers, the 26th remained in the attack until 25 July; some of the elements having been continuously fighting for eight days and nights. The division had advanced more than 17 kilometers against determined enemy resistance, had taken the villages of Torcy, Belleau, Givry, Epieds, and Trugny, and had captured large quantities of enemy material. On 25–26 July, the 26th Division was relieved by the 42nd Division, which, after having taken some part in the successful resistance to the German attack of 15 July in Champagne, had been brought round to the Chateau-Thierry region.

Just east of Chateau-Thierry and south of the Marne, the 3rd Division had broken up all efforts made against it on 15 July. Now, on 20 July, the 3rd Division received orders to join the counterattack. By skillful work of the command and staff the division had gotten well across the Marne by the 22nd and without having encountered serious resistance. From the 22nd to 25th the division was engaged in bitter fighting in wooded slopes leading up to the village of le Charmel, which was taken on the evening of 25 July. Constantly fighting its way forward, the division took Roncheres and finally on 30 July was relieved by the 32nd Division (which had just been transported into the sector from Belfort)after having suffered a total loss, in the defense of the Marne and in crushing the German resistance, of about 7,900.

The 28th Division also had elements with French and American divisions during the attack and won great credit. As has been mentioned, on 25 July the 42nd Division relieved the 26th Division. On the next day, the 42nd Division attacked, and by the 28th it had crossed the Ourcq and taken Sergy. Here the enemy offered desperate resistance, launching counterattack after counterattack, the village of Sergy changing hands four times. But the 42nd definitely occupied Sergy on the morning of 29 July and continued to press forward until 2 August when the enemy withdrew.

[In late] July three American divisions, the 3rd, 28th, and 42nd were in line there, side by side with [another], the 4th, in close support [and the 26th and 32nd preparing to deploy]...By August the Germans had taken up a position behind the Vesle and Aisne Rivers, where they held fast...On 5 August the entire front of the French Sixth Army was held by two American Corps...

Men of the 32nd "Red Arrow" Division Resting

The 4th Division now relieved the 42nd, and on 6 August the front stabilized on the line of the Vesle (4th and 32nd Divisions being in line). The 42nd had lost some 5,500 officers and men. Eight American divisions (the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 26th, 32nd, and 42nd) had been indispensable in the reduction of the Marne salient. The American units had lost over 30,000, but the results were commensurate—not only was the Marne salient greatly reduced, but the initiative had been gained by the Allies and was never to be lost.

From the beginning of the fighting, however, General Pershing had never varied from his determination to bring the American forces together. The German offensive, however, had interrupted the execution of this plan, forcing the Allies to utilize all possible efforts to the end that the war might not be lost. Now, however, the initiative had passed into the Allied hands and there appeared to be no good reason for longer delay. On the contrary, the Chateau-Thierry operations had involved such difficulties in the way of supply and the evacuation of sick and wounded (in all of which we were largely dependent upon the action of French staffs) that it was apparent to Pershing that his troops must be assembled. A few divisions might be properly cared for when dispersed under foreign command, but his forces with the Allies had increased to the point where it became imperative to begin assembling them. Preparations began for the American-led St. Mihiel Offensive and the AEF divisions started shifting from the Marne to the Verdun sector. More action, however, was to follow in the Marne region through early September. To be continued...

Source: The Doughboy Center

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Somme. Including Also The Coward
Reviewed by David F. Beer

The Somme. Including Also The Coward

by A.D.Gristwood
The University of South Carolina Press, 2006

The Somme: Before and After the Battle

Before the world grew mad, the Somme was a placid stream of Picardy, flowing gently through a broad and winding valley northwards to the English Channel. It watered a country of simple rural beauty: for long miles the stream fed lush water-meadows, where willows and alders and rushes slumbered in the sun, and cornlands and fat orchards supported a race of canny peasants. . .

And then came 1914 and the pestilence. (p. 15)

These two short novels are the only published works of A.D. Gristwood, who was an accountant, a very reluctant soldier, an effective but unfortunate writer, and a troubled and shell-shocked person who took his own life at age 39. His stories are interesting in that they consist of a relentless focus on the dreadful realities that an unusually sensitive person was tortured by in the First World War.

Gristwood's book would have been much better known if his publisher, Jonathan Cape, hadn't put it out of print in 1928, just before public demand for anti-war books suddenly bloomed. This is one of several misfortunes Gristwood suffered. He was born to a middle-class family, did well at school and was an unhappy clerk for fifteen years in an insurance company. In 1915 he enlisted in the London Rifles. This was the last thing he was suited for, and it seems he gave in to social pressure rather than to any vague patriotic urge.

He was soon wounded in the leg, eventually evacuated back to England, then sent back to France in time to be involved in the Somme conflict. The Somme is to a great extent autobiographical. The central character, Tom Everitt, shares similar experiences to Gristwood, and is abnormally sensitive, introspective and utterly disenchanted:

Orders came down the trench that the men were to make a "good meal," and the instruction seemed to them a masterpiece of cynicism. It was absurd to devour food when a few hours might relieve a man from the necessity of any further exertions in that direction. "Like fattening ducks,' said someone. (p. 48).

"Abomination of Desolation"
The Somme,  After the Battle (IWM Collection)

Much of the action in the story involves the wounded Everitt's long and tortuous journey-by crawling, stretcher, ambulance, and finally a very slow train-back to a base hospital. But first we share his observations as he lies among the wounded on the battlefield:

Thousands of men were lying crumpled in those fields, helpless, agonized, hopeless, frozen with terror, tortured with wounds…The bullets fell impartially on earth and flesh, and the maddening clamour of the machine-guns showed no sign of slackening. Moans, prayers, curses, entreaties, inarticulate cries, the stench of mud and blood and fumes and smoke, the thunder of guns, the shriek of shells and the rattle of rifle-fire, a chill rain soaking unchecked into that medley of woe-a modern battlefield! And fools talk of the glory of war, and the joy of battle! (p. 58).

Finally, after a long and agonizing journey, described in considerable detail, Everitt arrives at the base hospital, where things are far from ideal and where the sounds of battle are still heard. This is where the novel ends-but not with relief for Everitt, because "…not far away the fires of hate burned red as ever, and the long agony quickened with the days" (p. 115).

We learn no more about Everitt, but Gristwood himself was sent back to France once he recovered from his wounds. It seems he was wounded again, and after returning home took up his old job but was much more interested in writing. Thus a shorter novel, The Coward, was published with The Somme. It centers on a soldier who, like Gristwood, found the war unbearable. Unlike Gristwood, the anonymous soldier does something about it: he shoots himself in the hand and surprisingly gets away with it. He is sent back to "Blighty," but from then on lives a life of biting remorse and shame.

In spite of the support of H.G. Wells, who wrote a preface to the book, Gristwood had no further success as a writer. This fact, plus war wounds which made him ever more anxious and depressed—in effect, shell-shocked—finally got the better of him. He ended his life by an overdose of pills in 1933.

Hugh Cecil, author of the excellent 1996 study The Flower of Battle, wrote a detailed introduction to the University of South Carolina Press edition of The Somme Including Also the Coward. He gives us this insight into the author's work:

Gristwood's main point in both stories is that the central characters see the true nature of the war more clearly than their fellow soldiers. Who, therefore, can condemn them? Certainly not those who have never experienced the fighting (ix).

The book is an interesting and moving read even though we find none of the moments of hope, comradeship, love, or valor that we find at least occasionally in many other war novels. I found it hard to put down—in spite of its almost relentless bitterness and realism.

David F. Beer

Monday, July 16, 2018

Fateful Alliance: The Franco-Russian Alliance of 1894

The first chancellor of Imperial Germany, Otto von Bismarck, forged the “Triple Alliance” with Austria-Hungary and Italy in 1882, and he also maintained cordial relations and a nonaggression pact with tsarist Russia. Bismarck was dismissed in 1890 by the young Kaiser Wilhelm II, however, and his successors refused to renew the nonaggression pact with Russia on the grounds that it was logically inconsistent with Germany’s commitments to Austria-Hungary. The Russian foreign ministry sought to preserve friendly relations with Germany, but the Russian military insisted that a new alliance with France was essential for Russian national security. The tsar’s top military aide, General Nikolai Obruchev, took it upon himself to open direct talks between the French and Russian general staffs after a chance encounter with his French colleague, General Raoul de Boisdeffre, while vacationing on the Riviera. Despite reservations among the professional diplomats of both Russia and France, the generals persuaded Tsar Nicholas II and the French cabinet to endorse their secret military convention, which was signed by the chiefs of the army general staffs in August 1892 and ratified in January 1894 through an exchange of notes between the Russian and French foreign ministers. That agreement is reproduced below, along with excerpts from a memorandum for the Russian ministers of war and foreign affairs in which Obruchev explains the assumptions that guided him during his negotiations with Boisdeffre. 

SOURCE: George Kennan, The Fateful Alliance: France, Russia, and the Coming of the First World War.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

100 Years Ago: Germany Launches Its Last Offensive of World War I

Germans Attacking in Champagne, 15 July 1918

The Germans on 15 July 1918 launched the fifth of their great Ludendorff Offensives. Operation MARNESCHUTZ-REIMS had two objectives. The most urgent was to capture the city of Reims, which would open up the vital rail line into the salient. The second was to once more try to force the Allies to pull the French reserves out of Flanders by making it look like the real objective of the German attack was Paris. Despite the massive and intricate German deception plan and the attack across the Marne River with six divisions in the vicinity of Château-Thierry, all of the German operations plans and attack orders make it crystal clear that they never had any intention of attacking toward Paris. The main effort of MARNESCHUTZ-REIMS was on the left flank of the Seventh Army, which was supposed to envelop Reims from the west, while the First Army attacked to envelop the city from the east. Nonetheless, the German deception plan was so effective that to this day it remains an article of faith in far too many history books that the Germans were attempting to attack Paris in July 1918.

Map Showing Dispositions on 15 July 1918 and Depth of German Penetrations

When the Germans attacked the French government panicked and started making preparations to evacuate Paris. Even the commander in chief of the French Army, General Henri Pétain, believed Paris was threatened. Foch, the overall Allied commander, immediately recognized MARNESCHUTZ-REIMS for what it really was, a desperate, last-ditch bluff. He refused to react and ordered Pétain to continue preparations for a counterattack into the German Marne salient that the Allies had long been planning to launch on 18 July. Once again, Foch had out-generaled Ludendorff.

The German assault played out essentially in a single day. On 15 July, after the most fearsome artillery barrage of the war, Three and one-half German Armies attack in the early morning on 50-mile front between Chateau-Thierry and Navarin Farm in the Champagne. Notably at both ends of the front fresh American divisions were dug in and prevented any swinging door effect that might have collapsed the allied flanks. The 3rd Regular Division of the AEF made a strategically important stand on the left end of the line along the  Marne River, known as the "Rock of the Marne" episode. In the East, the 42nd "Rainbow" Division with French forces made an equally resolute defense using "bend but don't break" tactics. In other places on the line German units occupied parts of the  southern bank of Marne between Epernay and Chateau-Thierry and advanced their line somewhat east of Reims.

They Fought on the Marne, 15 July 1918

However, the minimal German gains were untenable and had to be quickly abandoned. Just three days later General Foch ordered his well-prepared and massive counter-offensive. It was the beginning of the end for Germany. The Ludenorff Offensives had failed to force a settlement on the Allies before the Americans arrived in overwhelming numbers. In July 10,000 Yanks per day were flooding into France.

Sources:  David Zabecki, The German Offensives of 1914; the Doughboy Center; Wikiwand

Saturday, July 14, 2018

100 Years Ago: The Death of Quentin Roosevelt

Lt. Quentin Roosevelt, Probably the Best-Known American to Die in the War

By Keith Muchowski

Flying airplanes during the Great War was dangerous business and life expectancy could be short. The omnipresent danger was illustrated on July 6, 1918 when John Purroy Mitchel was killed during a training exercise in Louisiana. The nation mourned for the former mayor of New York City and such figures as Theodore Roosevelt paid their respects at the funeral in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral on July 11. Later that week the rest of the world was paying attention to the assassination of the deposed Czar Nicholas II and his family when a stringer for the Associated Press named Phil Thompson noted an enigmatic telegram coming off the wires: “Watch Sagamore Hill for——.” The message ended at that because the censors had blocked out the rest.

Thompson showed Roosevelt the telegram at Sagamore Hill and the Colonel immediately started doing the awful arithmetic; he figured something had happened to one of his four boys, all in uniform, and began tallying their whereabouts to see who was most likely to have come into harm’s way. He ruled out oldest son Theodore (Ted) and Archie, who were both already recovering from injuries incurred on the battlefield; then he thought of Kermit and remembered that he had not yet joined his American unit (Kermit Roosevelt had previously been fighting with the British in Mesopotamia.) because he had gotten malaria. That left his youngest: Quentin. 

Quentin in His Nieuport 28

Theodore Roosevelt asked Thompson not to mention the telegram to his wife Edith until the situation developed. The next day, July 17, the story broke that Lieutenant Quentin Roosevelt’s Nieuport 28 C1 had been shot down in France on July 14 and that the young pilot was missing in action in German-held territory in the Château-Thierry sector. Still waiting for final confirmation of his son’s fate Colonel Roosevelt braced for the worst and issued a brief statement: “Quentin's mother and I are very glad that he got to the front and had a chance to render some service to his country and to show the stuff there was in him before his fate befell him.”

Quentin Roosevelt was born in November 1897 just before his father’s service in Cuba and meteoric rise to the New York governor’s mansion, the vice-presidency, and finally the White House. Quentin Roosevelt was familiar to most Americans, who had seen him grow up in the Executive Mansion during his father’s 7 1/2 years in Washington. When the war broke out five years after his father’s presidency, Quentin and the rest of the family followed the conflict with great interest. Still, life had its joys and pleasures. In his teens he began dating and was soon engaged to Flora Payne Whitney, a granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt. The war continued and eventually, like his brothers, Quentin Roosevelt joined the Allied cause. Flora wanted to go to France and be near her fiancé but the War Department would not allow it, citing various restrictions. Lieutenant Roosevelt was in the 95th Aero Squadron and was known for his kindly nature, mechanical aptitude, and tendency to take risks in the air. He had already had a number of close calls when on July 14—Bastille Day—he and his cohorts took to the air. Accounts vary as to how he got separated, but when he did he proved an easy mark for the German gunners. His plane was shot down the young pilot, all of twenty, was killed.

Fiancée Flora Payne Whitney, 1919

Both here in the United States and in France, the extended Roosevelt family tried to learn the details as best they could. The press searched for news as well. Quentin Roosevelt’s death was confirmed with certainty on 20 July 20. General Pershing and others sent their thoughts and prayers to the family. When the Germans realized who the American casualty was, they buried him in a dignified, well-marked grave. The Allies overran this sector in August to again secure the region, and Quentin’s grave quickly became a well-visited shrine. There was talk about sending Quentin’s remains back to the United States, but the family did not want that. Theodore Roosevelt wrote to General Peyton C. March in October expressing the parents’ wish that Quentin remain in France. “Where the tree falls, There let it be,” Roosevelt wrote, quoting the Book of Genesis. March wrote back saying that he understood and would respect the wishes of the Roosevelts and any family who wished their son to remain where he had fallen. 

Quentin's Original Burial Site

The Roosevelts intended to visit France after the war and place a stone marker at Quentin’s grave. Colonel Roosevelt never had that opportunity. Already suffering a number of ailments, his son’s death increased his anguish and contributed to his death on 6 January 1919. One month later, his widow sailed for France and visited their son’s grave. Theodore (Ted) Roosevelt, Jr., returned from France in early March 1919. He and his wife had their fourth child, a son, in November. They christened the boy Quentin Roosevelt II. His godmother was Flora Payne Whitney.

On 6 June 1944 Ted, back in uniform and now a general, and his son Quentin Roosevelt II, a captain in the Army, both landed on the beaches of Normandy during the D-Day invasion. One month later, General Roosevelt died of natural causes and was buried in the Normandy American Cemetery. In 1955 Quentin was reinterred but, per his parents’ wishes, remained in France. He was laid to rest next to his brother in the Normandy Cemetery. Flora went on with life, married several times, had numerous children, and was active in philanthropy and the art world. Her family founded the Whitney Museum of Art in the early 1930s, and she ran the museum for decades. For the rest of her long, full life Flora remained publicly silent about her first love. She lived in Old Westbury, Long Island, not far from Oyster Bay, and died in July 1986.

Professor Keith Muchowski is writing a book about Theodore Roosevelt, Sr., and Civil War Era New York City. He volunteers with the National Park Service at General Grant National Memorial (Grant’s Tomb) in New York City:

Friday, July 13, 2018

Portugal's National WWI Monument, Lisbon


The story of the Portuguese Expeditionary Corps (CEP) in the Great War is a sad one. Deployed in May 1917 near Armentières, the 20,000 men of its two divisions spent a miserable year in the trenches, as the troops—already puzzled by the rationale behind their deployment—grew increasingly demoralized. Farce turned to tragedy on 9 April 1918 when the CEP became the focal point for the second of Ludendorff's spring offensives, Operation GEORGETTE. In a few hours, the CEP was shattered, taking 500 dead and losing 6,500 prisoners.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Great Air Show This Weekend at Bethel, Pennsylvania

Wings & Wheels Fly-In and Car Show

Hosted by the Golden Age Air Museum 

Grimes Airfield (8N1)
Bethel, PA
14–15 July 2018

Fokker Triplane

Here are some of the many events taking place at the show over the two days:

  • Weather permitting, there will be demo flights of four aircraft: Part Scale Rumpler C.V, Full Size Sopwith Pup, Original 1918 Curtiss Jenny, and a LeRhône rotary-powered Fokker triplane. Flights typically scheduled for the early afternoon.

Sopwith Pup

  • Two World War One Aviation Presentations both days:

Saturday Morning:  "World War One Aviation 101 " and short presentation marking the 100th Anniversary of Quentin Roosevelt's death (95th Aero Squadron pilot, shot down 14 July 1918)
—Mike O'Neal

Saturday Afternoon:  "The Impact of Aviation on the Great War"—Steve Suddaby

Sunday Morning:    "World War One Aviation 101 "—Mike O'Neal

Sunday Afternoon:  "The Forgotten History of WWI French Aerial Bombing"—Steve  Suddaby

U.S. Air Service Uniforms

  • Displays of original WW I aviation uniforms
  • Displays of WW1I memorabilia
  • Biplanes rides available all day on both days in a 1929 Waco GXE 
  • Saturday evening Big Band Concert and Swing Dance
  • And much more

Aviation Memorabilia

Admission $10 for adults, $5 for children 6–12, 
children under 6 free
Fees for Biplane Rides 
For more information: 
or call 717-933-9566

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Battle of Le Hamel: 4 July 1918

The capture of the town of  Le Hamel and its surrounding areas was thought to be a significant and strategic boon to the Allied cause in 1918. Capture of these areas would provide an important foothold around the Somme area, as well as adding depth to defenses on Hill 104—the Villers-Bretonneux plateau. Perhaps most important, this area was the key to the defense of nearby Amiens. Unless they gained control over this area, Allied movements would be blocked between Villers-Bretonneux and the Somme, and mounting an offensive would be much more difficult.

Australian and Troops of the 33rd U.S. Division That Fought Together in the Battle

The Plan
The Hamel operation was under the command of Lieutenant General John Monash (his first as a corps commander), who stated:

It was high time that the anxiety and nervousness of the public, at the sinister encroachments of the enemy upon regions which he had never previously trodden, should be allayed by a demonstration that there was still some kick left in the British Army. I was ambitious that any such kick should be administered, first, at any rate, by the Australians.

The attack would primarily take the form of an infantry assault, but with significant tank and artillery support. Monash wanted to attack as early as possible, to avoid light, decreasing enemy visibility and protecting the troops from fire for as long as possible.

Planning was conducted in strict secrecy. Dummy installations were created to throw the Germans off, harassing fire was maintained while troops were getting into positions, and no daylight movement of troops was allowed—nothing that would warn that an attack was about to take place. Monash also asked for 18 planes to bomb Hamel, as well as older, noisier ones to distract attention from the noise of the tanks' whereabouts and movements. Several arms of attack were coordinated through the detailed and organised planning of Monash and his senior officers. All decisions and strategies were outlined, refined and formalised in group meetings.

A Mark V Tank in the Village After the Battle

The Attack
Of the attack, Gunner J.R. Armitage wrote in his diary:

The earth shook and the mind boggled at the concussion.

On 4 July, operations by the Australian Corps against Le Hamel and surrounding areas were launched. For the first time in the war, American troops acted as part of an offensive. Four companies were sent as attachments to the Australians, in an effort to give the Americans some first-hand battle experience.

The Hamel confrontation was described as a brilliant success. In two hours, all objectives were obtained, and 1,400 German prisoners were captured, as well as many weapons. Australian troops suffered 1,062 casualties, with 800 killed. Although Hamel was a great success for Australian troops, they had entered into battle already holding some strong cards. By July, the German offensives had been all but stopped. New techniques and weapons, such as the successful use of tanks at Cambrai in 1917, an artillery that was more comprehensive and had improved accuracy, and more Lewis guns (light machine guns), had significantly improved AIF performance by 1918. Better and faster communications were also an integral part of Hamel's success, such as the use of reconnaissance planes. Movements of German as well as Australian troops were marked on maps identical to those held by command below, and dropped down to motor bike riders who then dispatched the maps to the relevant section area. Consequently, Monash and battalion leaders had current information on the progress of the battle in minutes, compared with earlier laborious systems of communications.

Overlooking the Battlefield Today from the German Position

Planes were also used to drop ammunition and supplies to troops on the battlefield below by parachute—the first time in a battle on the Western Front that aircraft were used for this purpose. Use of the Mark V tank was also pioneered at Hamel, and would continue to play a prominent role in 1918 battles. Sixty Mark V tanks and four supply tanks were used. In preparation, Monash made the men from the different tank and infantry divisions mix and form friendships, and each infantry battalion painted its insignia on a tank. As well as fostering camaraderie, this made it easier to plan movements, as each tank and battalion were color coded and would advance together. In the fighting, only three tanks were disabled, and many Germans troops surrendered when faced with them.

Artillery was used heavily at Hamel to hit German batteries, ammunition dumps, and installations. Two-thirds of the artillery power was directed at German counter-batteries, causing many German casualties, and destroying their artillery capability to hit advancing infantry. Combinations of artillery, high explosives, shrapnel and smoke were employed, as well as heavy firepower (Lewis and 46 heavy machine guns) to move with the attack.

Infantry, artillery, tanks and planes worked together for over two kilometers, with relatively few losses. Monash wrote:

A perfect modern battle plan is like nothing so much as a score for an orchestral composition, where the various arms and units are the instruments, and the tasks they perform are their respective musical phrases.

A civil engineer by profession, Monash perhaps better understood these precepts, and could see their best application when looking at a map of a battle plan. Monash's ability to realize the potential of these weapons when used in combination is what is said to have distinguished him from other commanders in the battlefield.

Le Hamel Memorial on the Plateau Commanding the Sectory

French President Georges Clémenceau visited Australian troops who had fought at Hamel and said in a speech:

I shall go back tomorrow and say to my countrymen: "I have seen the Australians, I have looked into their eyes. I know that they, men who have fought great battles in the cause of freedom, will fight on alongside us, till the freedom for which we are all fighting is guaranteed for us and our children."

Sources: Australian War Memorial Website

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Isonzo, Forgotten Sacrifice of the Great War
Reviewed by Michael P. Kihntopf

The Isonzo, Forgotten Sacrifice of the Great War

by John R. Schindler
Praeger; 2001

German Troops on the Upper Isonzo, 1917
Because of my fascination with the Great War on the Eastern Front I have often started my reviews with the tattered cliché that the Eastern Front, despite its horrendous casualties and social upheaval, has not received as much attention as it should have. Rest assured that I will never use those words again after reading Isonzo, The Forgotten Sacrifice of the Great War. Historians have done much worse to the documentation of the Italian- Austro-Hungarian Front than they have to the Eastern Front.

When the book was published in 2001, John Schindler was a professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and later progressed to a teaching position at the Navy War College. His most recent work is the Fall of the Double Eagle: The Battle for Galicia and the Demise of Austria-Hungary.

For some odd reason this book reminded me of Maurice Ravel's "Boléro," which was inspired by a rather old Spanish dance. The music starts off very slow and very demure with the same notes over and over. Quickly the music, the same notes, gets louder and louder while the tempo increases. By the end, the orchestra is riotous with all instruments playing and the pace more madcap than a runaway freight train.

Schindler's book begins just like the music, low and slow with a description of the area around the Isonzo. It's almost like a travel monologue in which he describes the flow of the Isonzo through an ideal countryside, mentioning its chief cities and the Julian Alps with their majestic peaks and craggy valley. He even talks about the indigenous peoples' ethnic roots, pointing out that there is an Italian minority. Then, the tempo begins to increase, and he explains the nationalistic feelings Italians had toward the regio—Italia Irredenta. It is the last region that Italian nationalists saw as part of their heritage so long denied to them by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. And it and the Tyrol to the north are the price for Italy's entry into the war on the Allied side.

The Italian government declared war on Austria-Hungary in April 1915. The "Boléro"'s tempo is increasing. The Army is mobilized and led by General Luigi Cadorna. He is a meticulous planner on a level with his counterpart the Austro-Hungarian Field Marshal Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, with whom he shares some traits. Both Conrad and Cadorna took advice from no one, believing that they saw each and every item that would make their plan fail and had compensated for them. Like the field marshal, mountains, rivers, and opposing armies mattered little for Cadorna's advancing the armies. Neither put up with criticism, no matter how small, nor questions about their plans. But above all, both believed that sheer élan on the soldiers' parts was the key to winning the battle and the war.

By mid-1915 Conrad had learned about being so chauvinistic. He had read the reports of high casualties in Galicia and Poland. His reliance on élan had destroyed the Dual-Monarchy's armies and made it dependent on aid from Germany. Cadorna had also read the reports and received in-depth reports from Italian officers who witnessed the carnage on the Western Front. But all the evidence did not change his mind. He laid out the plans, set objectives, and expected his subordinate officers to lead the men to victory or suffer the consequences. After all, Cadorna had four corps in 1915 with over 1000 artillery pieces while his opponent had only two corps with a few hundred cannons. Victory was assured.

The First Battle of the Isonzo kicked off in May 1915. Schindler details the order of battle for both sides and critiques the abilities and disabilities of corps and division commanders. Interestingly, he does not talk about the ethnic diversity of the Austro-Hungarians but rather lauds cooperation between Bosnians, Croats, and Slovenes in the defense of their realm. The music has reached the fastest tempo and is the loudest. This crescendo will continue through ten more battles, all of 1916 and 1917, which have the same results. The Austro-Hungarians gave little ground and destroyed attacking divisions with well-coordinated artillery and machine gun fire. Many times, the Italians didn't even get within 200 yards of the defenders while at other times their sheer number brought about hand-to-hand fighting in the trenches.

By the third battle, Cadorna had not changed his concept of élan but decided that the battles would take on a concept of attrition. The Italians increased their artillery, especially in the heavier calibers, and threw their infantry at the Austrian lines in wave after wave banking on the idea that Conrad, considering that he was losing so many men against the Russians, would run out of resources to continue. Human cost was incalculable. Cadorna routinely lied to the Italian king and parliament about the losses and all the while asked for more men and more cannons. Whole battalions were refilled three and four times.

Italian Forces on the Carso Plateau, Lower Isonzo

Italian soldiers' morale had little time to deteriorate since most were killed off within weeks of arrival. On the Austrian side the casualties were not much less, and there were many times that battlements had to be given up because there were no reserves. Key to the Austrians' high casualties was the Italian artillery, which led off each attack destroying defensive works and men in days-long bombardments. But once the cannons stopped firing, there were always enough personnel to man the devastating machine guns. Finally, the "Boléro" reaches its climax in the twelfth battle, which is better known as Caporetto. The music stops abruptly and the listener feels that the dancers have collapsed on the floor.

As I stated in the beginning, Schindler's book has introduced me to a new facet of the Great War. It is the first volume of a new section of my library, and I hope to add much more.

Michael P. Kihntopf

Monday, July 9, 2018

World War One and National History Day, Part I

"Wilhelm the Second, King George the Fifth, and Czar Nicholas the Second: 
the Conflict of Compromised Cousins."

National History Day (NHD) is a nonprofit educational organization that promotes the teaching and learning of history in middle and high schools around the world through a variety of programs for teachers and students.

The National History Day Contest is NHD's biggest program. Established in 1974, the National History Day Contest encourages more than half a million middle and high school students around the world to conduct original research on historical topics of interest.

For the contest, students in grades 6–12 present projects at the local and affiliate levels. The students create entries as an individual, or a group, in one of five categories: Documentary, Exhibit, Paper, Performance, or Website.

The contests is huge—it takes place in all fifty states; Washington, DC; Puerto Rico; Guam; American Samoa; South Korea; China; South Asia; and Central America. Students first show their projects at the local level. Then they compete in a series of regional contests, with top entries advancing to state/affiliate contests. The top two entries in each category and division are invited to compete at the national-level Kenneth E. Behring National History Day Contest at the University of Maryland at College Park.

National History Day started as a local program in Cleveland, Ohio, headed by Dr. David Van Tassell, a history professor at Case Western Reserve University. It grew from 129 students in 1974 to over 500,000 students in 48 states in 1991 and 700,000 students and 40,000 teachers in 2001.

This year's National History Day Contest was special for the World War I Centennial because, for the second year in a row, the Centennial Commission able to sponsor special prizes for student projects on the theme of World War I.

The World War I prize is awarded to an outstanding entry in both the junior and senior divisions that documents and analyzes a significant aspect of World War I, clearly demonstrating historical relevance to the theme of World War I. 

The Winning Team in Mufti

Roads to the Great War will be honoring the two WWI winning teams. In this posting we honor the Junior Group winners.  Colin Bradshaw, Lamont Tueller, and Lorenzo Palmer, who presented Kaiser "Wilhelm the Second, King George the Fifth, and Czar Nicholas the Second: the Conflict of Compromised Cousins." They are students at the Laie Elementary School in Laie, Hawaii. Their advisor-teacher for the competition was Colleen Spring.

Here's a link to the 10-minute video of their award-winning performance.

We will be presenting information on the Senior Group award winners in a future article.

Sources: Families and Supporters of the Team and United States World War One Centennial Commission

Sunday, July 8, 2018

What Happened at Death Valley?

This peaceful-looking little valley was captured by the soldiers of the 90th Texas-Oklahoma division in the first few days of the St. Mihiel Offensive in September 1918. This valley, located a few miles east of the American cemetery at Thiaucourt, was held by the division for 27 days afterward and would be the main supply artery for the division during this time. 

The road is about a mile behind the new front line, which was over the hill on the left side of this photo. This view also reveals just how precarious the position proved to be. In the distance can be seen the heights above the Moselle River. These were occupied for the remainder of the war by German forces. The enemy observers, therefore, were looking straight down this road the entire time.

Early experiences taught the troops what they would be facing.  On the morning of 16 September the Supply Company of the 357th Infantry, which had kept well up with the advancing infantry, was caught in shell fire on the road and many horses were killed and wagons knocked out. Later, while crossing "Death Valley" eight horses of the Supply Company were killed, and 12 more were lost in nearby Bois des Rappes. The German artillery exacted a terrible price from the units traveling this exposed route, which the Doughboys of the 90th Division quickly named "Death Valley." 

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Patton Memory Days at St. Mihiel, France, Announced

George Patton personally led the first American tank assault in history in the opening of the St. Mihiel Offensive in September 1918.  Then, 26 years later, he led his Third Army through the same region.  The French citizens off the region have never forgotten the General's double efforts to liberate them and are honoring both his efforts this year on the 100th anniversary of his first appearance locally.  Here's some of the information the organizers have provided us.

Click on Image to Enlarge

Patton Memory DAYS

French, English, German, and American re-enactor camps, events, parade through the middle of town, Sound and Light Spectacle and a Liberation Ball. 1944 Sherman and 1918 FT-17 Renault Tanks, Vehicles, Horses, Artillery and various Artillery from 1918-1944 will be on hand.

SEPTEMBER 14–15–16
In Saint Mihiel, France              COME JOIN US!

Some interesting facts about the St. Mihiel Town and Salient:
  • The battle of 12–16 September 1918 was the first American-led battle of WWI
  • John Pershing, George Patton, Douglas MacArthur, George Marshall, Billy Mitchell, and Alvin York all participated
  • Rin Tin Tin (yes, that one) was born here during the battle.  
  • Rags  (1st Div) and Sgt Stubby (26th Div) both fought within 2 miles of each other
  • St.Mihiel has the second largest library of ancient books-after Paris! 
  • Sculptor Ligier-Richier lived here-many of his works are on display 
  • American Belle Skinner of Holyoke, MA restored Hattonchatel Castle 
  • American Battlefields of Seicheprey, Apremont la Foret, Beaumont, Flirey, Montsec, Bois-Brule’, Mort Mare, Bois-le-Pretre, Marbotte and Thiaucourt are all here
  • In early September 1944, St. Mihiel was liberated a second time by VII Corps of General Patton's Third Army
  • The second largest worldwide balloon launch and largest car show in Europe  happen here at the Lac du Madine  

Friday, July 6, 2018

100 Years: The Death of John Purroy Mitchel – New York City’s Boy Mayor

By Keith Muchowski

Mitchel at Polo Grounds, April 1915

John Purroy Mitchel died one hundred years ago today. Mitchel served as mayor of New York City from 1 January 1914 to 1 January 1918 and joined what became the Army Air Service days after leaving office. He was killed in a flight training exercise in Louisiana on 6 July 1918, two weeks shy of his thirty-ninth birthday. John P. Mitchel is less well known than figures like Jimmy Walker and Fiorello La Guardia, but New York’s “Boy Mayor” embodied his time in office just as much as his two successors personified the period of the Roaring Twenties through the end of the Second World War.

John Purroy Mitchel, was born in the Bronx in 1879. Young John graduated from St. John’s College (today Fordham Preparatory School) in 1894, earned his bachelor’s degree at Columbia College in 1899, and graduated with honors from New York Law school in 1901. He quickly rose in politics, earning a reputation as an idealistic reformer unafraid to take on Tammany Hall. In the 1900s he helped Mayor George B. McClellan Jr. weed out corruption and held increasingly important posts into the 1910s. In 1913 Woodrow Wilson nominated Mitchel for the Collectorship of the Port of New York. He served in that capacity for about five months until stepping down with Wilson’s blessing to run for mayor. Mitchel ran on the Fusion ticket and was a popular candidate who drew support from such powerful sources as Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt. John Purroy Mitchel won in a landslide and at thirty-four became second youngest mayor of New York City.

Mitchel and Wilson, May 1914

Mitchel pursued his reformist agenda but things changed suddenly when the war broke out in Europe. After the sinking of the Lusitania in May 1915 Mayor Mitchel became a greater advocate for Preparedness and attended the Plattsburg Camp that August. He and other civilians, including some of Roosevelt’s sons, paid their own way to march, drill, and study the rudiments of military tactics. There was national controversy that August when Theodore Roosevelt showed up and gave a fiery speech denouncing the Wilson Administration and what he viewed as its do-nothing response to the Great War. Roosevelt, Leonard Wood, Mitchel, and others, primarily successful Northeasterners, continued strenuously advocating for Preparedness into 1916 all the way up until America’s declaration of war in April 1917. That November Mayor Mitchel ran for re-election. While he retained the strong public support of prominent figures like Theodore Roosevelt and former Supreme Court justice Charles Evans Hughes, he nonetheless lost the race.

Mitchel did not remain in New York very long. The very day he lost his re-election bid he had begun corresponding with Secretary of War Newton Baker, seeking an officer’s billet in the infantry. Baker remained noncommittal even after a face-to-face meeting in Washington later that month. Mitchel also pleaded his case to President Wilson’s most trusted advisor, Colonel House, but he too rebuffed the overtures. Baker and House’s reluctance should not be surprising. Mitchel had been a Wilson ally in the Administration’s early days. A rift was inevitable though once the mayor began attacking the Wilson Administration over its Preparedness stance. The determined Mitchel did eventually find a place for himself  in the military, accepting an officer’s commission in the Army Signal Corps’ Division of Military Aeronautics in early January 1918.

Mitchel and Leonard Wood, January 1915

In mid-February Major John P. Mitchel boarded a train at Grand Central Station headed for San Diego with his wife. For the next two months the former mayor of New York City would learn to fly various small planes and was soon performing barrel rolls and other maneuvers. Mitchel was next ordered to Gerstner Field near Lake Charles, Louisiana. It was tough duty. The base was remote and the Louisiana summer heat oppressive. Still Mayor and Mrs. Mitchel made the best of the difficult situation. Things were going routinely until a training exercise on 6 July. His instructor remembered that Mitchel did a few basic maneuvers until losing control of the small aircraft. Then, he saw Mitchel tumble from the plane. Investigators later determined that he was not strapped in to the seat belt. Death was instantaneous.

Mitchel was given a funeral with full military honors in New York City on 11 July. When St. Francis Xavier, of which Mitchel was a member, proved too small to accommodate the growing number of mourners, the funeral was moved to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. An airplane dropped roses from above. There in support was former president Theodore Roosevelt, who after his friend’s death had written to the now-widowed Mrs. Mitchel that “In all our country there was no finer American and no more upright and able public servant.” Some speculated in those July days that had Mitchel survived he might have gone on to win the the presidency some day. Mitchel was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.

Mitchel funeral with Theodore Roosevelt in attendance, July 1918

Soon the commemorations began. The military aviation base in Long Island was renamed Mitchel Field that very week. On Alumni Day 1921 Columbia’s Class of 1899 dedicated a tablet to Mitchel in Hamilton Hall. That July the New York City Fire Department christened the “John Purroy Mitchel,” the first-ever oil-fueled fire-boat in the line. New York’s waterways were still thriving in this era. Its harbors were constantly active and ocean liners crossed the Atlantic daily pulling into its piers. In the ensuing decades the fire-boat put down some of the most intense conflagrations in New York maritime history. In 1928 admirers dedicated a John P. Mitchel Memorial in Central Park near the 90th Street and Fifth Avenue entrance. Mayor La Guardia attended Memorial Day services there annually throughout the 1930s and 1940s, rarely missing a ceremony. The New York Public Library dedicated two flagpoles to the memory of Mayor Mitchel in 1941 outside its iconic 42nd Street branch.

These observances tapered off in the 1950s as the Great War began receding from memory into history. In 1966 the Fire Department retired the “John Purroy Mitchel” after the fire-boat's more than four decades of hard service. The Uniformed Firemen’s Association and other advocates issued a protest but eventually accepted the inevitable. Sadly John Purroy Mitchel became increasingly forgotten over the following years. Not even yet forty when he died, the Boy Mayor may have gone on to take the White House, perhaps becoming the first Catholic to assume the presidency decades before John F. Kennedy.

Keith Muchowski, a librarian and professor at New York City College of Technology (CUNY) in Brooklyn NY, writes occasionally for Roads to the Great War. He blogs at