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

Sunday, December 10, 2023

A Decisive Moment at Gallipoli: The Battle for Scimitar Hill

The Battle of Scimitar Hill was a major piece of the last offensive mounted by the British at Suvla during the Battle of Gallipoli in World War I. It was also the largest single-day attack ever mounted by the Allies at Gallipoli, involving three divisions. The purpose of the attack was to remove the immediate Ottoman threat from the exposed Suvla landing and to link with the ANZAC sectors to the south. Launched on 21 August 1915 to coincide with the simultaneous attacks on Hill 60 and W Hills to the south  The attacks south were defeated, and the attack on Scimitar Hill  was a costly failure, in which the Turks were forced to use all their reserves in "severe and bloody fighting" far into the night, with some Turkish trenches lost and retaken twice. For the third time in the Gallipoli Campaign, the Allies had the misfortune of confronting forces under the command of Mustafa Kemal, who uncannily reinforced Hill 60 and Scimitar Hill at critical moments in the fighting.

The attack on Hill 60 was a failed attempt by the Allies to capture a prominent hill feature between Anzac Cove and Suvla Bay. The attack was led by General Cox and his 3,000 troops, fighting continued there after 21 August but that attack was abandoned by Anzac commander William Birdwood on 28 August. Meanwhile, the attempt to capture the West  Hills also failed. The division sent to capture the hills lost its bearings and was unable to find its way. 

Turkish Commander Mustafa Kemal During the Fighting at Suvla

Following a preparatory but ineffective   artillery barrage starting at 1430 hours on 21 August 1915, the 29th Division attack on Scimitar Hill, began at 1500 hours through scrub that had been ignited by the artillery fire.The attempt initially succeeded despite the dense smoke, the crest was reached about 1600 hours.  Unfortunately, the men were in an untenable position as Turkish artillery from the  Anafarta Hills to the East brought deadly direct fire to bear while the immediate enemy stood on their parapets firing from the hip and throwing hand grenades. 

Allied Commander de Lisle (Seated) During the Fighting—Note Contrast with Kemal Above

As the day wore on and attack after attack broke under the fire of the resolute defense, the brush caught fire and hundreds of wounded lying in the open ground between the lines were cremated alive; the sights and sounds of that day would never be forgotten by the survivors. Reserves sent by IX Corps Commander MG Henry de Beauvoir de Lisle were thrown back after suffering heavy losses while charging uphill.

Turkish Monument Atop Scimitar Hill

Allied casualties in the Scimitar Hill action reached some 5,300, many of which were incurred after British artillery shrapnel resulted in surrounding bush catching fire. Turkish losses were put at 2,600. Demoralized by the mounting losses, Hamilton telegraphed war minister Lord Kitchener in London with a request for another batch of troop reinforcements, this time comprising 95,000 men. Kitchener offered 40,000, but the government in London was already considering evacuation options.

Sources: The History Junkie, It's a Long Way to Gallipoli; Wikipedia; Australian Military History podcast

Why Did President Wilson Send Amerian Troops to Siberia?

Wilson's Biographer Arthur S. Link Explains the Decision:

During the height of the Second Battle of the Marne, the hard-pressed British and French put heavy pressure upon Wilson to join the Japanese in opening a second front in Siberia, in order to prevent the transfer of German troops from Russia to the western front. Wilson suspected, rightly, that the Allies wanted the United States and Japan to make war against the Bolshevik regime. Wilson thought that Allied hopes to reestablish the eastern front were futile and foolish. He also believed very deeply that the Russian people had the right to work out their own destiny and to establish any kind of government that they pleased, without any outside influence or pressure whatsoever. Hence, he vetoed all suggestions for a Siberian operation.

Wilson relented slightly under the pressure of events in the summer of 1918. A force of 70,000 Czechs, former Austro-Hungarian prisoners of war in Russia, had banded together in what was called the Czech Legion and were fighting to escape along a route from Russia proper to the Siberian port of Vladivostok. Wilson, in a memorandum of 17 July 1918, announced that he would send a small force to Vladivostok to guarantee the safe exit of the Czechs; he also invited the Japanese to join him in this limited operation. In the same memorandum, Wilson reiterated his intention to oppose all efforts to interfere in Russian internal affairs.

Wilson was motivated in large part by the suspicion, which turned out to be well grounded, that the Japanese had designs on Siberia. Thus, Wilson, while he sent only 7,000 men to Vladivostok, did his best to keep the Japanese contingent to the same size. However, the Japanese government eventually sent in 70,000 men and seized northern Manchuria and eastern Siberia. Wilson, in August 1918, also sent four battalions from Pershing's force to Murmansk and Archangel in northern Russia to cooperate with British and Czech forces there to safeguard large munitions supplies against capture by the Germans.

Source: Presidential Profiles, World Biography: U.S. Presidents

Saturday, December 9, 2023

Great WWI Trivia from Strategy Page

Wright Brothers Memorial Naval Aviation Fly-Over
Kill Devil Hills, NC (Strategy Page)

Strategy Page is a great site for hardcore military affairs enthusiasts.  Their articles range from in-depth reporting and analysis to a regular trivia feature. It also offers a neat selection of photos (See above).

1. Several novels, such as John Dos Passos’s 1921 Three Soldiers, have characters who are jailed or even executed for desertion from the army, but during World War I only 5,584 U.S. soldiers—out of nearly 3.5 million enrolled—were charged with desertion, of whom about half were convicted, few served much time, and none were executed.

2.  Fully 85 percent of Red Cross parcels sent to Allied POWs in German hands during World War I reached the intended soldier.

3.  The first wife of Austrian World War I submarine ace Captain Georg von Trapp was Agathe Whitehead, the granddaughter of Robert Whitehead, the inventor of the "automotive torpedo," with whom he had the children who became the “Trapp Family Singers."

4. Kreigsmarine Seals?  Perhaps the earliest example of a regularly organized naval special operations force was the German Marine-Sturmabteilung, composed of 300 surplus naval personnel, which was formed in the two-division Marinekorps Flandern in June of 1916 to conduct high-risk missions, including defending the submarines bases on the Belgian coast, defending trench lines along the Yser, and conducting maritime security and special operations.

5.“Agent 17”: August Schluga, Baron von Rastenfeld (1841–1917), who’d served as an officer candidate in the Austrian Army during the 1859 Italian War and afterward became a newspaper correspondent in Paris. Sometime during the 1860s he became a German spy, performing valuable services during the Austro-Prussian and Franco-Prussian Wars and over the years of peace that followed. In 1914 Schluga passed documents with details of French Plan XVII to the Germans, though the General Staff apparently did not fully appreciate their importance. Never apprehended, he continued to pass valuable information to the Germans from Paris until 1915, when he moved his base to Switzerland, where he died of natural causes. Schluga’s work was revealed postwar, but his sources were never determined.

6. Published in 1931, The Battle of Jutland by Cdr. Holloway H. Frost, USN (1889–1935), was so well regarded that the German navy adopted it as a text for officer cadets.

7.  About 40 percent of male New Zealanders between the ages of 19 and 45, totaling about 120,000 men, served overseas during the First World War, of whom 18,000 died and over 50,000 were injured.

8.  Despite its themes of peace, equality, and tolerance [and the passing of the old aristocracy], when Jean Renoir’s Grand Illusion premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 1937, it became an immediate favorite with Benito Mussolini, who kept a copy in his private collection, though his partner in crime Adolf Hitler despised the picture.

9. At the time of his death, on 24 November 1916, at the height of the Great War, Hiram Maxim was deaf, having fired his invention, the first really practical machine gun, some 200,000 times while selling it to virtually every army in the world.

10.  Approximately one out of every three pilots who entered front line service in World War I died in combat or due to accidents.

11.  Soon after Italy entered the World War in the spring of 1915, about 310,000 Italians living in other countries (including nearly 90,000 from the United States and one from Siam) returned to their native soil to serve.

Friday, December 8, 2023

Map Series #24—The Best Map I've Ever Found for the Anzac/Suvla Sector at Gallipoli

You might still need to enlarge this map or use a magnifying glass to read all the details contained, but I sure wish I had it available when I visited Gallipoli, especially for the Suvla Bay area. It was produced by the New Zealand Department of Lands and Survey in 1915, and it is especially good at showing the terrain. 

Click on the image to  enlarge it.

By the way: To track down all the maps we have presented here over the years, in the search box in the upper left corner enter:

"Map Series #"

Thursday, December 7, 2023

Maine and the Great War

With a long history of patriotism and service, Maine experienced the war in a truly distinct way. Its individual experiences tell the story of not only what it means to be an American but also what it means to be from Maine during the war to end all wars.

During the period of World War I, Maine men, women and children of all ages, ethnicities, and religions supported the war effort from home. They formed relief organizations, donated and rallied for the troops abroad, and participated in civil defense. Everyone learned to ration food and many supported the increased focus on agriculture and industry

Troops of the 2nd Maine Marching in Portland

Maine furnished 32,032 fighting men to the war, about five percent of the state’s population. Many more men and women served in administrative or support service roles, at home and abroad. The National Guardsmen of the state's 2nd Infantry (successor to the 20th Maine that held Little Round Top at Gettysburg) were  assigned to the 103rd Regiment of the the 26th "Yankee" Division and the draftees to an assortment of units. The 54th  Coastal Artillery Corps, made up of different National Guard batteries of Maine Coast Artillery, was called into Federal service in January of 1918. The regiment arrived in Le Havre France on 6 April 1918 and was designated the Replacement Regiment for the Heavy Artillery. The entire University of Maine Band joined the 103rd Infantry Regiment, as did a squad of warriors from the Passamaquoddy Nation, including the chief’s own son, who was killed in action on 11 November 1918. 

Between April 1917 and December 1918, 1,032 Maine men and women gave their lives for their country. Countless more returned wounded, both physically and psychologically. The introduction of modern warfare with mechanized weaponry, submarines, trench warfare, chemical weapons, and newer technology like tanks and airplanes, took an immense and often misunderstood toll on the soldiers. 

An Enthusiastic Member of Maine's 54th Coastal Artillery, Recently Arrived in France

Maine civilians supported the war by purchasing $118.4 million in government bonds and $8.4 million in war savings stamps. At the outset of the war, Maine producers kicked into gear and took an active role in supplying the Allies with goods. Industries like shipbuilding, textile manufacturing, and farming of staple crops accelerated and expanded production to support the troops. 

There was a surge in Maine's shipbuilding during World War I. However, as ships became larger and with a larger draft, it became harder for the ships to navigate the Kennebec River channel, and the logistics of building them in Bath became too difficult. During World War I, Bath saw its largest population and many ships built, including over 20 destroyers, but following the war, all of the shipyards in Bath went out of business. Bath Iron Works was sold at auction but was resurrected to become the only remaining shipyard in Bath. It is still the sole commercial shipyard in Bath and continues to build destroyers for the U.S. Navy. It is now the largest public employer in Maine.

USS Manley, Built in Bath During the War

Private sector relief programs operated by the American Red Cross, YMCA, YWCA, and the Salvation Army also received generous contributions from the public. By the end of the war, every man, woman and child in the state had donated an average of $147 to the war effort.

The most famous Maine veteran of the war was air ace Sumner Sewall (1897–1965). Sewall dropped out of Harvard College in 1917 to go to Europe to aid the Allies during World War I. Sewall served first in the American Ambulance Field Service from February through August 1917, then in the U.S. Army Signal Corps, then finally as a fighter pilot in the U.S. Army Air Service, becoming an ace by scoring seven victories, flying his SPAD XIII with the 95th Aero Squadron. 

Lt. Sumner Sewall, DSC

Afterward, Sewall became and aviation executive and went into politics. He served as governor of Maine over two terms, 1941–45. After stepping down as governor, Sewall became president of American Overseas Airlines for a year, then served as the military governor of Württemberg-Baden from 1946 to 1947. In 1948, Sewall finished a distant third in the Republican primary for Maine's open United States Senate seat, which ended his political career. Sewall became president of the Bath National Bank in the 1960s. He died on 25 January 1965.

Sources:  Maine Memory Network, BDN, Wikipedia, Bath Shipyard

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Remembering America's Great War Experience Between the Wars

In her 2020 essay "Finding a Place for World War I in American History: 1914-2018" historian Jennifer Keene wrestled with the question as to how World War I became our nation's "Forgotten War." In her most interesting passage, however, she points out that, although this has been the case in the late 20th and early 21st centuries,  this was not the case in the 1920s and 30s when in a number of ways the war had a firm place in America's collective memory. [Full Essay HERE.]

Hollywood Certainly Didn't Forget the War

. . .From 1918 through 1945, the war was anything but forgotten, suggesting that “forgetting” [the First World War] is a more recent phenomenon. America grappled with the loss of 120,000 soldiers (half of these in combat, the rest mostly as a result of the influenza epidemic), and the reintegration of nearly 200,000 wounded men. Historian G. Kurt Piehler has traced the physical presence of World War I in towns and cities where Americans drove their cars on Pershing Drives, attended meetings in Memorial Halls, and watched football games on Soldiers’ Fields. Critical of the plethora of mass-produced statues erected after the Civil War that lionized leaders and foot soldiers, memorialization in the 1920s took a utilitarian turn, honoring servicemen through the creation of community structures that improved civic life. In 1921, the remains of an unidentified soldier were buried in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery, a noteworthy alteration of the nation’s commemorative landscape. At a time when no wars had national monuments (the present structures dedicated to World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam War appeared toward the end of the 20th century), the creation of a national site of mourning and remembrance explicitly for World War I represented a unique commemorative practice.

Almost immediately, however, Americans splintered in the meaning they attached to the Unknown Soldier. Americans debated whether the tomb represented victory, peace, or valor (the sarcophagus erected in 1932 over the grave included allegorical figures for all three). African American civil rights activists adopted the trope of the Unknown Soldier to highlight the nation’s refusal to adequately recognize the contributions of black soldiers. Town monuments also reflected this ambiguity over whether the nation was commemorating victory or mourning loss in the statues they erected with plaques listing the community’s war dead.

Peace and Valor from the Tomb of the Unknowns

Over time, townsfolk added the names of fallen soldiers from other wars to these plaques, weakening their symbolic link to World War I. A similar dilution occurred when the remains of unidentified soldiers from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam were buried in the Tomb of the  Unknown Soldier. The same fate befell the annual Armistice Day commemorations that began on 11 November 1919 to remember the fallen in World War I. In 1954 Armistice Day became Veterans Day, a holiday dedicated to honoring all living and deceased members of the armed forces. Such transformations were not unique to American remembrance of World War I. The passage of time had weakened ties between the Civil War and Decoration Days—originally two separate days when relatives in the North and South decorated the graves of fallen soldiers. By the 20th century, as the divisions between North and South healed, the term Memorial Day came into vogue with commemorations now honoring the fallen of all wars on the same day in May. Memorial Day became an official federal holiday in 1971.

In the interwar period, the government erected eight national overseas military cemeteries in France and Belgium, placing the grave sites of individual soldiers in the shadows of massive memorials recalling the scope and complexity of American combat operations. Lisa M. Budreau argues that the government constructed overseas memorials and cemeteries to underscore the emergence of the United States as a major world power during the war, but burying fallen American soldiers overseas proved domestically contentious. In 1917, Secretary of War Newton Baker had promised to return the bodies of war dead to their families for burial in local communities. In 1919, however, the government reversed course and began pressuring families to keep their loved ones near the field of honor where they fell. The specter of thousands of coffins arriving home presented the worrisome prospect that grief might become the predominant memory of the war. Equally disturbing, the possibility that bringing home all war dead would allow France and Britain to downplay the American contribution to the overall victory. In the end, nearly 70 percent of families demanded that the government repatriate the bodies of their loved ones. With fewer bodies available to offer visual evidence of America’s contribution to the victory, the American Battlefield Monument Commission designed the official overseas cemeteries with ample space between gravestones to camouflage the fact that so few American soldiers were buried in them.

The distinctly American way of mourning privileged some forms of remembrance over others. In Of Little Comfort: War Widows, Fallen Soldiers, and the Remaking of the Nation after the Great War, Erika Kuhlman argues that war widows became public symbols through which American society could grieve for the war dead but only if they exhibited stoic acceptance influenza or combat became private rather than public stories. Sustained despair and grief were culturally unacceptable within the United States, a society that privileged optimism and progress.

The war exerted its greatest impact on American domestic political culture during the 1930s. Two singular events in American history, the Gold Star Mother Pilgrimages and 1932 Bonus March by World War I veterans, revealed the resonance of the war’s legacy during the Great Depression. These two staged events highlighted the emotional and financial cost of the war to average citizens, underscoring the government’s responsibility to mitigate that suffering. . .

Bonus Marchers from Utah on Their Way to Washington
The March Ended in One of the Saddest Episodes in
American History

During the most severe years of the Great Depression, the nation proved willing to expend $5 million to send 6,685 mothers and widows to visit graves overseas. The demand by veterans in the early 1930s that the government pay them their promised bonus proved much more contentious. Controversy over the soldiers’ bonus extended back to 1920.

In Doughboys, the Great War, and the Remaking of America I argued that conscription created a social compact between the state and conscripted soldiers that endured well after they returned home.  In veterans’ eyes, if the state had the power to draft men, it also had the ability and responsibility to prevent war from financially ruining the lives of those it conscripted.

In 1924, Congress awarded World War I veterans a monetary bonus in the form of a bond that matured in 1945. Once the Depression hit, however, veterans began agitating for early payment of the bond. This grassroots movement culminated in the 1932 Bonus March when 30,000 World War I veterans marched on Washington, DC, and set up an encampment that lasted for six weeks until the army violently evicted the protesters from the capital. Veterans ultimately received their bonus payment in 1936.

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

The Imperial Russian Army in Peace, War, and Revolution, 1856-1917

By Roger R. Reese
University Press of Kansas, 2019
Reviewed by Michael P. Kihntopf

Russian Enlisted Men in Galicia

Roger R. Reese is a professor of history at Texas A&M University.  He has written a number of works about the Russian Army under Josef Stalin’s leadership. In The Imperial Russian Army in Peace, War, and Revolution, Reese destroys many paradigms formed by Russian scholars who saw autobiographical accounts of the Russian Revolution, written in the 1920s and 1930s by disenfranchised imperial generals as beyond question accurate. His premise is that the soldiers’ rebellion in 1917 was not due to the defeats in the Great War as so many scholars contended. Instead, the roots of rebellion are deep, dating back to the Crimean War (1853–56) and the emancipation of the serfs in 1861. Moreover, those roots were nurtured by the reforms of War Minister Dmitri Miliutin (1861–81). 

The Russian Army’s performance during the Crimean War was dismal. Miliutin identified two major factors in that performance: 1) the basis for recruiting officers and 2) officer education.  Those two reforms, along with the serfs’ emancipation, were like the big bang in the creation of the universe. Prior to the reforms, commissions were handed out to the nobility based on connections.  Consequently, the officer ranks were the dominion of the nobility whose position was bestowed on them by the tsar and not the Russian state. Therefore, their allegiance was to the tsar for continued privileges. Reese calls this an army of honor. In that army, connections to the royal family were the sources of promotions. 

Miliutin, however, wanted an army of virtue in which merit and education under state regulations was the basis for advancement. Military schools were opened to non-nobles. This brought the officer class into conflict with themselves. Nobles, contending that the protection of the tsar and not the preservation of the state was the military’s responsibility, resented non-nobles, who saw a state system of promotion that discriminated against them. This conflict was heightened during the Great War when the need for officer replacements led to the rank and file, whom the nobles considered still peasants, receiving commissions.

Reese’s research in this area takes into consideration letters and diaries of that time along with family histories. Most of these sources had never been used for various reasons—including the tight hand of the Russian archives. His quotes from this material peppered throughout the book are well selected and highly informative, as are his statistics for showing how temporary officers began to dominate the army command structure. I was particularly amazed at the high degree of education the quotes from non-nobles showed and which destroyed another preconceived notion that there was very little literacy among that class. 

A Group of Russian Officers Somewhere on the Eastern Front

The serfs’ emancipation threw another brick into the window of Russian history. With the emancipation and a universal service law, the army began to lose the exclusiveness of peasants in the soldiers’ ranks.  In 1900, peasants accounted for 90% of the ranks. By 1914, the peasant percentage was reduced to 60%. Artisans and craftsmen from rural life made up 16.7% and urban workers 7.87%.  These new categories of soldiers were literate and more worldly. Since the creation of the Russian army, most officers had been taught to see soldiers as not men but children who required stiff discipline.  

With the entry of better-educated soldiers and more socially adept individuals, the soldiers began to agitate for better conditions. Corporal punishments procedures were rewritten, as was the sole authority for administering such punishment which had resided in non-commissioned officers and officers under the aegis of the regimental commander. The rank and file simply expected more, and this too called into question the autonomy of the tsar.

Reese weaves a very compelling argument for showing that soldiers were always dissatisfied with their conditions. He maintains that the rebellions came from within the army,  rather than as a result of agitation from political factions outside of the army. The officer corps could have dealt with the problems but lacked a unity because of social differences: nobles did not want to cooperate with non-nobles.  The ranks’ deterioration was not caused by the introduction of soldiers’ soviets in 1917.
The Imperial Russian Army in Peace, War, and Revolution is a real eye-opener to me, and I’m sure that others interested in this theater of the Great War will be just as amazed. Reese’s research in statistics for officer losses not due to battle is quite shocking, as is the revelation of the lack of education among the majority of upper ranks. The work will temper anything that I might write about the Russian army hereafter.  

Michael P. Kihntopf


Monday, December 4, 2023

Discovering the Magnificent "Dixie Doughboy"

Click on Image to Enlarge

The life-size bronze "Dixie Doughboy," honoring the men of the 31st Division of the AEF, was completed by sculptor Charles E. Smith in 2010 and dedicated that Armistice/Veterans Day that year at Merritt Island, Florida's Veterans Memorial Center. The Dixie Division included many of the 33,000 Floridians who served under General Pershing's command in France.

The Vero Beach Version

In 2021, the same molds were used to create a second Dixie Doughboy for Vero Beach, Florida. It is located at the community's Veterans Memorial Island Sanctuary. The sanctuary, which opened in 1964, holds a number of tributes to the veterans of America's numerous wars.  

Details from the Merritt Island Version

Over the years, I've viewed hundreds of Doughboy statues and written about some of them here. Consequently, I'm embarrassed to say that I became aware of the Dixie Doughboys only recently. I ran across the photo at the top online and was struck by the dynamism and authentic detailing of the piece. The was, however, no location given for the statue. Luckily, I had my friend and historian of the World War I Memorial Inventory, Mark Levitch, to call upon and he gave me the locations.

Rifle Detailing

I hope you enjoy these photos and can visit these sites when you're next in Florida.

Sunday, December 3, 2023

The Tank (1916-2023) — An Obituary

By Editor Mike Hanlon

He has had a long run since the Battle of the Somme, but he is dying violently, spasmodically before our eyes in his 107th year.  The Tank in his time was a global celebrity, an unambiguous statement of military might cherished by every army in the world, desired to be possessed in ever-greater numbers. Ironically, his passing is leading back to the very malady he was designed to cure—stalemate by trench warfare and attritional warfare. The longtime titan of the battlefield has been tamed by a combination of his old adversaries, mines and artillery—but vastly improved, robotic, precision targeted, AIed, and dynamically penetrating—with swarms of kamikaze drones possessing visual and infrared monitoring capabilities, armed with lethal smart rockets.  Surprise — the Information Age has gifted mankind with inexpensive electronic gadgets that are adaptable for military applications. What is evolving as one commentator pointed out is "a slow grinding war of attrition. . . fought with robots."

The Tank's demise became most obvious in the last months of 2023 when the Russian counter-response to the failed Ukrainian offensive also bogged down.  While reports from the front are not reliable and often contradictory, one telling news item seems to come from multiple sources, including the Washington Post. Its substance is that the overwhelming number of mines has forced the Ukrainian  commanders to withdraw all their Tanks, including the highly-regarded Leopard Tanks from Germany, while infantry deals with the mines. This will prove perilously challenging for the troops, though, since  a) there are also anti-personnel mines protecting the anti-Tank mines, and b) they will be exposed to the same surveillance technologies, drone-launched weapons, and old-time, but vastly improved artillery, and the latest mobile rocket launchers, as the Tanks were.  Good luck, men.

Ukraine’s top military commander, Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, might have sounded the death-knell for the Tank, when he pointed out: “You can no longer do anything with just a Tank with some armor, because the minefield is too deep, and sooner or later, it will stop and then it will be destroyed by concentrated fire,”  In the meantime Russia has announced a new gadget it has been testing, a Tank-killing robot, sort of a ground-based drone, which may make things even more interesting for those American Abrams Tanks that are soon to be deployed on the battlefields of Ukraine.

The views expressed here are solely mine.  MH

Saturday, December 2, 2023

Setting Sail for Jutland — A Roads Classic

Flagship HMS Lion and British Battlecruisers Opening Fire at Jutland

Jutland was the only major fleet-vs.-fleet naval battle of the First World War and took place between the German High Seas Fleet and the British Grand Fleet. Over 6,000 British and 2,500 German sailors lost their lives in the fighting.

In 1914, Britain had the biggest and strongest navy in the world. Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz (1849–1930) greatly expanded the size and quality of the Imperial German Navy, until the German Navy grew to become one of the greatest maritime forces in the world, second only to the British Royal Navy.

After the British success at Dogger Bank in holding back the German attack in January 1915, the German Imperial Navy chose not to confront the numerically superior British Royal Navy in a major battle for more than a year, preferring to rely on its lethal U-boat fleet. However, in May 1916, with the majority of the British Grand Fleet anchored far away at Scapa Flow, Vice Admiral Reinhard Scheer believed the time was right to resume attacks on the British coastline. Scheer ordered 19 U-boats to position themselves for a raid on the northeast coastal town of Sunderland, using air reconnaissance craft to keep an eye on the British fleet. Bad weather hampered the airships, however, and Scheer called off the raid, instead ordering his fleet to head north, to the Skagerrak, a waterway located between Norway and Denmark off the Jutland Peninsula, where they could attack the Allied naval interests and, with luck, punch a hole in the stringent British blockade.

Unbeknownst to Scheer, however, a newly created intelligence unit in Britain had cracked the German communication codes and warned the British Grand Fleet’s commander, Admiral John Rushworth Jellicoe, of Scheer’s intentions. Consequently, on the night of 30 May, a British fleet of 28 battleships, nine battle cruisers, 34 light cruisers, and 80 destroyers set out from Scapa Flow, bound for positions off the Skagerrak.

On 31 May, a British naval force commanded by Vice Admiral David Beatty spotted a German squadron of warships and confronted them some 75 miles off the Danish coast. The two squadrons opened fire on each other simultaneously. This lasted around 55 minutes, during which time two British battle cruisers (HMS Indefatigable and HMS Queen Mary) were destroyed with the loss of 2,000 sailors. The remainder of the German fleet then joined, so Beatty was forced to fight a delaying action for the next hour, until Jellicoe arrived with the rest of the Grand Fleet. Both fleets faced off in their entirety, and a great battle of naval strategy commenced. As sections of the two fleets continued to engage each other throughout the late evening and the early morning of 1 June, Jellicoe maneuvered 96 of the British ships into a V-shape surrounding 59 German ships. The German flagship, Lutzow, was disabled by 24 direct hits but was able, before it sank, to sink the British cruiser Invincible.

Post-Battle Damage to Battlecruiser SMS Defflinger
German Ships Demonstrated a Superior Ability to Absorb Damage at Jutland

The German fleet withdrew under cover of darkness at 18:30 on 1 June, thus ending the battle, and cheating the British of the major naval success they had envisioned. The Battle of Jutland engaged a total of 100,000 men aboard 251 ships over the course of 72 hours. The Germans claimed it as a victory for their High Seas Fleet. At first the British press agreed, but it was not so clear cut. The German navy lost 11 ships, including a pre-dreadnought battleship and a battle cruiser, and suffered 2,500 casualties; the British sustained heavier losses, with 14 ships sunk, including three battlecruisers, and 6,000 casualties.  

On 4 July, Vice Admiral Scheer advised the German high command that further fleet action was not an option and that submarine warfare was Germany’s best hope for victory at sea. This strategy when implemented fully would bring the United States into the war. Despite the heavy losses, the Battle of Jutland had left British naval superiority on the North Sea intact.

Source: Jutland 100 History Project of the British Royal Legion

Friday, December 1, 2023

1 December 1918: the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes Proclaimed

Ensign of the New Kingdom

The idea for the unification of the southern Slavs emerged in the 19th century, and the strength of its appeal varied over the course of its development. During the First World War, unification became the main war aim of the government of the Kingdom of Serbia as well as the Yugoslav Committee, the group of exiled Habsburg Croat, Serb, and Slovene politicians and intellectuals  formed in Italy and based in London. In different ways, these two groups advocated for Yugoslav unification. 

Serbia suffered over a million dead during the Great War: 450,000 military and 650,000 civilians. It was, however, on the winning side, and by the time of the Armistice, its combat forces—deployed mainly in the Salonika sector—were rebuilt. Despite terrible suffering at home during the enemy occupation, at war's end, Serbia was the local "Strong Man." With the disintegration of the Habsburg Empire at the end of the Great War in 1918, many of the empire’s southern Slav minorities sought the protection of the Serbian throne and entered into union with Serbia as the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes on 1 December 1918. 

Nikola Pašić, Serbian Nationalist, Many-Times Prime
Minister of  Serbia and the New State

On 7 February 1919, the United States recognized the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes through a statement released to the press by the U.S. Acting Secretary of State Frank Polk. The United States considered this new state as the successor state to the Kingdom of Serbia. The Paris Peace Conference subsequently underwrote a new pattern of state boundaries in the Balkans. The various treaties  established the right to self-determination as had been defined in January 1918 by President Wilson in his Fourteen Points. This right became a key criterion for the political order in both East-Central Europe and Southeast Europe. Every people was to be free to create a nation state of its own, provided that certain language and ethnographic criteria were met. Economic, historical, and strategic factors also played a role. 

With the peace agreements of 1919/1920, the Great Powers created a corridor stretching from the Baltics to the Balkans of nation states that had liberal democratic constitutions and welfare state systems. These were to act as a cordon sanitaire against revolutionary Bolshevik Russia, on the one side, and revisionist Germany on the other.

The major beneficiary there was the newly created Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, which comprised the former kingdoms of Serbia and Montenegro (including Serbian-held Macedonia), as well as Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Austrian territory in Dalmatia and Slovenia, and Hungarian land north of the Danube River. 

Peter I was King of Serbia from 1903 to 1 December 1918,
when he became King of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes.
He held that title until his death three years later.

In 1929, after a decade of acrimonious party struggle, King Alexander I in 1929 prorogued the assembly, declared a royal dictatorship, and changed the name of the state to Yugoslavia. The historical regions were replaced by nine prefectures (banovine), all drafted deliberately to cut across the lines of traditional regions. None of these efforts reconciled conflicting views about the nature of the state

In 1946, Yugoslavia became a socialist federation of six republics: Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Macedonia. At this time, it adopted the name Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY). On 25 1991, Slovenia and Croatia declared their secession from the Yugoslav federation. Macedonia (now North Macedonia) followed suit on 19 December, and in February–March 1992 Bosniaks (Muslims) and Croats voted to secede. As civil war raged, Serbia and Montenegro created a new federation, adopting a new constitution on 27 April 1992.  

An agreement, ratified in 2003, renamed the country Serbia and Montenegro and effectively consigned the name Yugoslavia to the annals of history. Serbia and Montenegro was dissolved on 3 June 2006, when Montenegro declared its independence.

Sources: Office of Historian, U.S. Department of State; Encyclopedia Britannica; History of Yugoslavia, Purdue University Press, 1914-1918 Onlne.

Thursday, November 30, 2023

The Allied Post-Caporetto Military Support of Italy

Italian Forces Retreating After Caporetto

In May 1915 the Kingdom of Italy entered the Great War as one of the Entente nations. A few weeks later, the Italian Army attacked the Austrian frontier defenses and achieved some success, mainly in the mountains north of Trieste. Here the Commando Supremo, General Luigi Cadorna, orchestrated a series of desperate assaults known as the Battles of the Isonzo. In August 1917, the eleventh of these violent clashes left the Austrians in dire straits. The k.u.k. was generally in a bad way after three years of heavy losses in Russia, Serbia and Italy, and desperate for relief. The AOK turned to their German allies who came up with a plan for a short offensive to push the Italians out of the mountains. In late October 1917 the Battle of Caporetto not only pushed the Italians onto the plains but forced them back to the river Piave, where the CS managed to organize and establish a new front line. The despised Austro-Hungarians were back in the Veneto, this time accompanied by fit, battle-hardy, and disciplined German divisions, and it was the turn of the Italians to seek help.

Early in the battle General Cadorna appealed to the French and British for assistance, on the basis of an inter-Allied agreement made in December 1915 during a conference at Chantilly, near Paris. Britain, France, Italy, Russia, and Serbia had each undertaken to hold itself in readiness to stop any enemy offensive on its own front with its own resources, and to assist, to the fullest possible extent, an ally faced with a similar situation. A year later, at another conference, mutual support was again discussed, and talk changed to planning. The British and French each envisaged sending an expeditionary force of two Army corps; about 120,000 men and 26,000 horses, to Italy. 

The British plans were prepared under the direction of Brigadier General JHV Crowe, assisted in Italy by the British Military Mission, Italian staff officers, and representatives of the British and Italian Foreign Offices. The Official History contains a good description of the plans and the associated administrative procedures. French staff officers in the Theatres d'Opérations Extérieures (TOE) section of the GQG and Italian officers in the CS made similar arrangements.  Thanks to the hard work of these officers, after Cadorna's appeal French and British troops were quickly sent to Italy. By 27 October, French advance parties were in Italy and British teams followed a few days later.

Lieutenant-General Rudolph Lambart (10th Earl of Cavan), the C-in-C of the British Army in Italy, and Major General Jean César Graziani, the C-in-C of the French Army in Italy

Most military trains in France and Flanders were generally of a standard "consist": engine, two coaches, 30 of the dreaded Chevaux 8 Hommes 40 vans, seventeen flat cars for vehicles and stores, and two brake vans. One train could carry any unit or sub-unit where the permutation of men and animals did not exceed the capacity of the box-vans; e.g. half an infantry battalion, or half an RFC squadron. As the journey to Italy would take at least five days, space had to be found for rations and forage. As it was thought the troops might go straight into action so pick-axes, spades and sandbags also had to be crammed into the vans.

Most accounts of Great War journeys bemoan the slow speed of the trains. Throughout France, Flanders and Italy, military trains were scheduled to travel through each section of a route at a specific speed, which averaged 30 kph / 171/2 mph for every journey. This unhurried progress may have exasperated the troops, but it helped the railway authorities control, as much as war conditions allowed, complex traffic movements.

British Royal Artillery Anti-Aircraft Piece on the Italian Front

The journey may have been slow and uncomfortable, but it acted as a powerful tonic to the weary troops. Edward Corbett, the well-educated, much-traveled and overage Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant Major of 1/8 Worcesters wrote:

Dawn found us at Longueval, not far from Paris; next dawn we were beside the great Sâone in Beaujolais. The men were enraptured by the scenery. So down the long, lovely valley beneath the Cèvennes, and over the Isêre, till at evening time we saw the high snows of the Dauphiny [sic]... we seemed to be in a new continent - houses of a new type, olive and orange trees, cypresses and aloes, a bright sun, a buoyant sparkling air, white hard roads, (fancy, a dry road, Alf), and now those lovely bays.

The British

The British Expeditionary Force (Italy) detrained around Mantua, south of Verona, and were briefly held in that area as a backstop in case the enemy onslaught crossed the Piave. The GOC was General Sir Henry Plumer, at that time commanding the Second Army in France, and one of the best British commanders of the Great War. The fact that Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig selected him to command the expeditionary force indicated the seriousness with which the British authorities viewed the threat to the Italian nation, the Otranto Barrage and the Mediterranean seaborne lines of communication.

Many British accounts dwell on the problems of unloading large numbers of men, animals and vehicles at small country stations with limited facilities. The situation was hindered by a lack of interpreters; each battalion was supposed to have one Italian Liaison Officer fluent in English and several interpreters. Even if one was available he might be Neapolitan and unable to understand the Mantovan stationmaster, and possibly speak English with a pronounced American accent. Corbett wrote about one of these interpreters:

Through a little town (Albaredo) we marched to a hamlet here Major Bate achieved a feat which added indescribably to our comfort and well-being all the time we were in Italy. he stole an interpreter, an Italian soldier from London, Luigi Ciapancelli by name, Lulu to our tongues and in our hearts, the best little man that ever made macaroni scarce.

Fortunately many of the Carabinieri, who in Italy carried out many of the functions of military police, spoke some English. All were intelligent and energetic; having by force of circumstances to work closely with British MPs they soon became fluent, as did many of their English colleagues in Italian, to the surprise of their officers and countrymen.

Norman Gladden, a private soldier in 11/Northumberland Fusiliers, noted that the British were in Italy to set an example:

On our arrival in Italy we had been admonished to keep smart and emulate the Guards. During the preceding days much spit and polish had been expended. We were now expected to create an impression, to inspire confidence in the people, who were to see and hear about the Allied contingents marching with drums beating and fifes playing in smartly-uniformed and well-aligned columns of four, towards the field of battle.

The local population, and newspaper reporters from across Italy, were suitably impressed by the long columns of Allied soldiers; smart, disciplined, healthy, cheerful and vigorous. They were in sharp contrast to stragglers from Caporetto slowly making their way westwards. These Sbanditi were shepherded into assembly areas well away from the operational zone; quiet places where shattered units could rally, and exhausted and demoralised men recovered in body and soul. But the Italian nation rallied after the disaster at Caporetto; and propaganda posters appeared everywhere, exhorting everyone to fight and support the nation in its time of danger.

The French                                                

47th Chasseurs Alpin on the Italian Front

The French expeditionary force, the Tenth Army (GQC General Duchêne), were concentrated west of Verona, around the southern shores of Lake Garda, partly to counter a rumored Austro-German offensive down the valley of the river Adige from the Tyrol.

Some of the French troops knew they were marching in their forefathers' footsteps. The Tenth Army passed the battleground of Solferino where, in August 1859, a French army fought an Austrian one; both claimed a victory. The resulting carnage, or rather the sufferings of the wounded left where they fell in the full heat of summer, eventually led to the formation of the International Red Cross. Some French officers knew about the Battle of the Piava (correct spelling at that time, May 1809), when a Napoleonic Franco-Italian Army waded the river near Nervesa and defeated an Austrian army retreating from the Veneto; in 1917 the tale was recounted in cafés and considered to be a good omen.

The Americans

On 6 April 1917 the United States of America entered the war as an "Associated Nation" of the Allies. One infantry regiment, the 332nd, served in Italy, along with several supply and medical units. In addition, a number of American Red Cross (ARC) and YMCA personnel provided care and comforts to the Italian Army, and later to the 332nd Infantry, its support units and the U.S. Military Mission. A very small number of American doctors served in Italy in the ranks of the British Army as unit (infantry battalion, artillery regiment) Medical Officers, but by late November 1917 most had been returned to France to join the American Expeditionary Force. At that time the USA was still not at war with Austria; that occurred on 7 December 1917. There were exceptions, for example Captain S Bayne-Jones U.S. Army Medical Corps served with 11/Sherwood Foresters in France and Italy and was with the unit on the Montello and (briefly) the Asiago Plateau.

Soldiers of Co "K", 332nd Infantry That Served in Italy


In addition to the 332nd and the ARC men (and women), a number of U.S. trainee pilots were sent to Italy under the inspiring leadership of Fiorello La Guardia, at that time a lawyer and recently-elected Congressman for the 14th District of New York, who had learned to fly in 1915 and managed to go solo. In addition, significant numbers of immigrants returned to Italy as recalled reservists or volunteers for the Italian Army. Apart from those killed in fighting along the Austrian frontier and in accidents, some were killed at sea. In January 1916 an Italian merchant ship, the Brindisi, was crossing the Adriatic with war materials and food for Italian and Serbian forces in Albania. She was also carrying several hundred Italian-American volunteers for service with the Italian Expeditionary Force in that country. The Brindisi hit a mine and sank with the loss of over two hundred lives, many of them the luckless volunteers. The mine had been laid by the German UC-14 which was operating against Allied shipping in the Adriatic despite there being no state of war between Italy and Germany until August 1916.

Source; An Excerpt from: Touring the Italian Front by Francis Mackay

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Never Forgotten: PFC Joseph Lorenz, 150th Machine Gun Battalion, Rainbow Division

PFC Joseph Lorenz (1895–1918)

Joseph Lorenz joined the Wisconsin National Guard in 1916, and was one of the troops sent south for  Mexican Border Service  following the raid by Pancho Villa. In 1917, the Wisconsin Guard was called to Federal Service and his unit was folded into the 42nd Rainbow Division.  At some point these men were classified as machine gunners and were assigned to the  division's 150th Machine Gun Battalion. The full division was shipped to France in October 1917. It was one of the earliest American divisions to deploy to the Western Front and would eventually see heavy fighting in all of the AEF's major battles.

Great-Niece Kathy Compagno at the
Croix Rouge Farm Rainbow Division Memorial

During the Second Battle of the Marne, when the men of the 42nd Rainbow Division crossed the Ourcq River at the end of July 1918,  they found them looking up at an impressive and well-defended hillside. Hill 184—just east of the town of Fere-en-Tardenois—would be a tough fight for the Doughboys, but within two days they would not only knock the Germans off the hill, they would force them into a major retreat to the north.

Hill 184 Shown on the Right

The price was dear, however, for the capture of the position. That's why nearby the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery (near Meurcy Farm on the map) is the final resting place for over 6,000 of our countrymen. One of the boys that fell in the fighting, Private First Class Joseph Lorenz, was wounded during a gas attack on 1 or 2 August. He was evacuated to a base hospital and endured an amputation but died on 21 November 1918. His family later decided that he should be buried in France alongside his fellow soldiers, and he now rests in Plot A, Row 13, Grave 8 at Suresnes American Cemetery, just outside Paris.

Joseph's Mother Rosa Heidler Lorenz at Her Son's Grave

His family and his nation have never forgotten Joseph. The America of General Pershing's era and the American Battle Monuments Commission provided him with a beautiful burial site In the 1930s, his mother was allowed to visit his grave and battlefields through the Gold Star Mothers' Program. In our century, his family—especially my friend, his great-niece Kathy Compagno—has continued visiting France to honor him. Her grandfather, Lt. William A Bertsch of the 3rd Division, was also wounded during the Second Battle of the Marne.

Click on Image to Enlarge

Certificate Signed by General Pershing

In 2015, Kathy contacted me with her interest in visiting Joseph and William's battlefields.  She had visited Suresnes and some other battlefields previously, but had not made it to where her two relatives had been wounded. I told her that I could modify the  itinerary for my upcoming Western Front tour to include extended visits to both sites. It turned out to be a very moving experience for all of us, as Kathy shared details about the lives of Joseph and her grandfather. Some of the tour members in their post-travel critiques mentioned  these stops were highlights of the tour. 

Kathy on the Hill 184 Battlefield

And most recently, Kathy and her family arranged with the Doughboy Foundation to have Joseph honored when "Taps" was played on 18 November 2023 at the National World War One Memorial in Washington, DC. Below is a video of that day's remembrance.