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

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

31 July 1917
The Battle of Passchendaele (3rd Ypres) Opens

The name Passchendaele has become synonymous for waste of life and pointless orders to continue the attack irrespective of the ground conditions.
Tony Noyes, Battlefield Guide Par Excellence and Friend

Pilckem Ridge Area: When the Rain Began and Today

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The horrendous losses to the French in their part of the Allied offensive of April 1917 had led to widespread mutinies during the summer. As a result, the burden of continuing the attack on the Germans in the fall of 1917 fell to the British forces. Sir Douglas Haig, the British commander-in-chief, chose the Ypres salient as the site for his new offensive. He believed this area offered the greatest scope for a breakthrough, and the Royal Navy supported him, hoping that the army could capture the ports on the Belgian coast that the Germans were using as bases for their submarine offensive against Britain's seaborne trade.

The offensive began on 31 July 1917, but made disappointingly small gains. The British artillery bombardment, which was needed to shatter the enemy's defensive trench system, also wrecked the low-lying region's drainage system, and unusually rainy weather turned the ground into a wasteland of mud and water-filled craters. For three months, British troops suffered heavy casualties for limited gains.

[Hooge] Chateau Wood: October 1917 and Today

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On 16 August the attack was resumed, to little effect. Stalemate reigned for another month until an improvement in the weather prompted another attack on 20 September. The Battle of Menin Road Ridge, along with the Battle of Polygon Wood fought by the Australians on 26 September and the Battle of Broodseinde on 4 October, established British possession of the ridge east of Ypres.

In October, the Canadian Corps, now commanded by Lieutenant General Sir Arthur Currie, took its place in the front lines. On 26 October the 3rd and 4th Divisions launched the first Canadian assault, in rain that made the mud worse than ever. Three days of fighting resulted in over 2,500 casualties, for a gain of only a thousand or so yards (1 km). A second attack went in on 30 October. In a single day, there were another 2,300 casualties — and only another thousand yards (1 km) gained. On 6 November, the 1st and 2nd Divisions launched a third attack that captured the village of Passchendaele, despite some troops having to advance through waist-deep water. A final assault on 10 November secured the rest of the high ground overlooking Ypres and held it despite heavy German shelling. This marked the end of the Passchendaele offensive.

Passchendaele Village after the Battle and Today

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Passchendaele was one of the war's most futile battles. The unspeakable conditions led to terrible losses — nearly 260,000 British casualties, including over 15,000 Canadians killed and wounded. This suffering had produced no significant gains (though it did help wear down the German army). Passchendaele has come, perhaps more than any other battle, to symbolize the horrors of the First World War.

Sources: Imperial War Museum, Library and Archives of Canada and BBC Website

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The August 2013 St. Mihiel Trip-Wire Is Now Online!


The July issue of your World War I monthly newsletter, the St. Mihiel Trip-Wire, is now available at the URL above. It is for the dedicated student of the First World War, with articles on military operations on the land, sea, and air, personalities of the time, and all the activities associated with the centennial.

In this month's issue we have features on the Belgian Army at war; the great powers rush to fill the ranks in 1913; the effect of the war on Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung; best books on the opening campaign; gas masks for animals; the Battle for High Wood; and the centennial preparations by the First Division Museum at Cantigny and American Battle Monuments Commission.

For all the editorial team and contributors,

Mike Hanlon, Editor in Chief

The Great War on the Small Screen
Reviewed by Jane Mattisson Ekstam

The Great War on the Small Screen. Representing the First World War in Contemporary Britain

By Emma Hanna
Published by Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 2009

The Great War on the Small Screen demonstrates how and why television has broadened public remembrance of World War One in contemporary Britain. Emma Hanna, Lecturer in History at the University of Greenwich, London, argues that it is time for historians to recognize that it is their business to understand and analyze television documentaries as influential pieces of public history since few serious works of history embrace television as a primary source. Hanna defines her purpose as examining the narrative and chronological development of the production of programs on the war with the aid of "in-depth analysis of the visual design by which the conflict has been presented on British television." (p.4) She compares television programs to "building blocks" in Britain's national memory of the events of 1914–18.

Hanna takes us behind the scenes of the making of such important programs as The Great War (1964), The Trench (BBC 2002) and Not Forgotten: The Men Who Wouldn't Fight (BBC 2008). She draws on documents in the BBC Written Archives Centre at Caversham, Berkshire, the Imperial War Museum, and the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives.

In her final chapter, "The Fear of Forgetting," Hanna summarizes the most important findings of her study. Television, she argues, has demonstrated that it is not in military and political histories but in firsthand accounts, poetry, art, and music from the war that we find the most eloquent expressions of war experience. Television brings to the fore the importance of the individual's experience, his/her sacrifice, endurance, and courage. British documentary producers and viewers, some of whom are related to those who fought in the conflict, will continue to produce and watch television programs about World War One as a form of remembrance ritual in which grief and consolation are important components. Hanna's study ends with the following claim: "The continued presence of the conflict on British television will ensure that the memory of 1914–18 is a wound that may never heal." (p. 171) The reader is left with the thought that perhaps it is best that it should not heal.

The Great War on the Small Screen is beautifully illustrated with black and white photographs. Each chapter is meticulously annotated and there is a comprehensive index. Hanna's study is an excellent complement to George Robb's fine study, British Culture and the First World War (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002).

Jane Mattisson Ekstam

In their concluding season in Blackadder Goes Forth, Rowan Atkinson and the gang — shown on the cover of Small Screen — deliver a parody of the war that's both hilarious and powerfully moving. Don't miss it.

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Monday, July 29, 2013

Three WWI Images from the U.S. East Coast
From Steve Miller

Here are three sites on the East Coast documented by Roads contributor Steve Miller. The USS Olympia, flagship of Admiral Dewey at Manila Bay in 1898, saw service in the American deployment to Northern Russia.  After, it was given the honor of returning the nation's Unknown Soldier from France.   The commemorative rail car is one of the legendary 40 & 8s (40 men or 8 horses) used to transport the Doughboys to the battlefields.  Ulysses Grant McAlexander was the commander of the 38th Infantry Regiment that played a key role in the "Rock of the Marne" episode described in our posting of 15 July 2013 remembering its 96th Anniversary.

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Sunday, July 28, 2013

28 July 1914: One Month After the Asssassination —
Hostilities Begin

The immediate cause of the First World War was the series of diplomatic maneuvers, ultimatums and blunders known as the July Crisis of 1914.  By 28 July 1914, one month after the archduke's assassination, the Great War had not yet taken its full shape, but leaders of Europe were beginning to appreciate that general war might be unavoidable. July 28th in hindsight may have been the day when the disaster became inevitable.

Austria-Hungary made its punitive declaration of war against Serbia on 28 July and almost immediately bombarded Belgrade from the Danube. Its leadership still naively hoping that its ally Germany would deter Russian involvement while it dealt with the Serbs. In Britain, First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill ordered the Royal Navy to its war stations. France, however, was distracted by the verdict delivered in the trial for the murder of newspaper editor Gaston Calmette.  The accused, Henriette Caillaux, wife of radical politician and minister of finance Joseph Caillaux, was surprisingly acquitted. She never denied firing the fatal shots, but her lawyer successfully used a "crime of passion" defense. The most fateful  event of the day may have been the three-way diplomatic discussions going on among Austria-Hungary, Russia, and Germany. Two notable messages of that day shed some light on what was going on out of the public's view.

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From Top: First Shots of the War—Austro-Hungarian Monitor Bombarding Belgrade from the Danube; Madame Caillaux in the Defendant's Box; First Sea Lord Winston Churchill; German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg; the Tsar and Kaiser in Happier Times

Kaiser Wilhelm was sending a conciliatory message to his cousin, Tsar Nicholas — one of the famous Nicky-Willy telegrams:

28 July 1914

It is with the gravest concern that I hear of the impression which the action of Austria against Serbia is creating in your country. . . .The unscrupulous agitation that has been going on in Serbia for years has resulted in the outrageous crime, to which Archduke Francis Ferdinand fell a victim. The spirit that led Serbians to murder their own king and his wife still dominates the country. . . .You will doubtless agree with me that we both, you and me, have a common interest as well as all Sovereigns to insist that all the persons morally responsible for the dastardly murder should receive their deserved punishment. In this case politics plays no part at all. . . .On the other hand, I fully understand how difficult it is for you and your Government to face the drift of your public opinion. Therefore, with regard to the hearty and tender friendship which binds us both from long ago with firm ties, I am exerting my utmost influence to induce the Austrians to deal straightly to arrive to a satisfactory understanding with you. I confidently hope that you will help me in my efforts to smooth over difficulties that may still arise.

Your very sincere and devoted friend and cousin,


Meanwhile, his government was playing a different set of cards:

Telegram from the Imperial Chancellor, von Bethmann-Hollweg, to the German Ambassador at Vienna, Tschirschky, July 28, 1914:

Your Excellency will kindly discuss the matter along these lines thoroughly and impressively with Count Berchtold, and instigate an appropriate move at St. Petersburg. You will have to avoid very carefully giving rise to the impression that we wish to hold Austria back. The case is solely one of finding a way to realize Austria's desired aim, that of cutting the vital cord of the Greater-Serbia propaganda without at the same time bringing on a world war, and, if the latter cannot be avoided in the end, of improving the conditions under which we shall have to wage it, insofar as is possible.  

Saturday, July 27, 2013

A Great Source of WWI Images
Those Old Michelin Battlefield Guides

Immediately after the war, the battlefield guides produced by the Michelin Company were state-of-the-art helpers for tourists. Today, however, they would just get you lost. The roads, visual landmarks, and signage today are quite different from those of the 1920s. Nevertheless, I highly recommend that World War I aficionados study these booklets because their photos are superb and unique. They do not seem to be among the stock images presented in other publications. Particularly good are their panoramas of the naked battlefields without any new growth and of the French Poilus at war. Also, some of the detailed background descriptions and details about the battles are excellent and hard to find in more contemporary sources. A selection of photos from my collection appears below along with information on acquiring a starter set for your library. For the present-day battlefield visitors the guides and maps by Toni and Valmai Holt are the best available and we will be featuring them in future postings.  MH

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Friday, July 26, 2013

Remembering a Veteran,
Surgeon Giulio Andreini, Italian Army



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Dr. Andreini with a Medical Book

Giulio Andreini, son of Angelo Andreini and Jole Bellotti, was born in 1888 in Viareggio (Lucca) where he attended elementary school and junior high. When his father Angelo, mathematician and geographer, was offered a job at the Military Geographic Institute in Florence, the whole family moved to Florence, and Giulio furthered his education by attending high school and college, where he obtained a medical degree. He attended the Surgical School in Florence that was run by Professor Enrico Burci. He obtained his degree in 1912 and signed up as a volunteer for the medical campaign against malaria in Sardegna (Italy, in the Tyrrhenian Sea), where he eventually contracted the disease.

Returning to Florence, he served as an assistant doctor in the Surgical Clinic of Florence. His primary interest was in new surgical techniques, especially in the field of osteoarthritis pathologies. He subsequently published many interesting works. He also had a love of photography, which is evident in the large amount of recently discovered materials from World War I, some scenes of the military and medical life of the time, and some pictures of his personal life that show traditions and mores of life at the beginning of the last century.

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Aid Station; Medics Wearing Both French and Italian Respirators

During the same period, his younger brother Michele, born in 1890, obtained a degree in engineering and became part of the emerging aviation industry with a pilot license. He was considered a pioneer of the Italian Air Force.

When Italy entered WWI, on 24 May 1915, Giulio was drafted as a medical lieutenant. After a period of time on the Italian Front, he was transferred to the Western Front where he remained until the end of the war. During his long stay in the war zone, he collected important documentation which had medical and surgical and historical value. Unfortunately, the vast majority of this documentation disappeared during one of the reassignments of the military field hospital. This episode was referred by him as "the theft of Lampegne," Lampegne being a place in France.

[The photos here were part of a set acquired by Mr. Doug Frank of Portland, Oregon. In future postings on Roads he is going to share with us where the photographs were lost and how he came into Dr. Andreini's collection. We will also be displaying more images from the doctor's remarkable collection.]

After the end of the war, he resumed his activity at the Surgical Clinic in Florence with his "maestro," Professor Enrico Burci. In 1921, he was nominated Head of the Surgical Ward (Surgeon-in-Chief) and Head Doctor of the Medical Staff for San Pietro Igneo Hospital in Fucecchio, Florence.

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Not a Photographic Flaw; This Is an Actual Head Wound

In 1922 he married Georgette Gamard, teacher and refugee from Dizy-le-Gros, a small town in the region of Aisne, France. He had met her in France behind the lines during the war.

Dr. Giulio Andreini boosted the hospital in Fucecchio by enriching it with many services. The hospital later became a famous and esteemed center, well known from as far as the Inferior Valdarno to the city of Pontedera near Pisa. At the hospital he had his studio and his private room where he kept all of his documents, writings, and photographs, both medical and personal. He was interested not only in photography but also in satiric and humorous poems.

He had five children. The first one, Andrea, died right after birth in 1922. The second one [the author here], Giorgio, born on 22 May 1925, is an orthopedic and a physiatric doctor. He is retired now and lives in Siena. [He passed away in 2004.]The third one, Angelo, (1927–1947) died very young. The fourth one, Jole, born in 1929, is married and lives in Siena. The last one, Sigismondo, (1933–11 January 1998) died in a car accident.

Dr. Giulio Andreini, after a long and fruitful medical career in the hospital and in the country, contracted acute leukemia in the first months of 1937 and passed away 16 April of the same year. The whole population of Fucecchio was present at his funeral service. His photograph has been hung on the walls of many houses in town and in the countryside. About ten years ago, when his memory had almost faded away, the Fuccechio town council dedicated a street in his name.

Immediately after Dr. Giulio Andreini's death, his family repeatedly asked the nuns of the Beato Cottolengo, who were in charge of the hospital, for all the photographs and documents that had been left in Giulio's private room, but they were not successful. Georgette Gamard, his wife, was told that all the material in the room had been destroyed because, in the nuns' opinion, "that was the best for the family."

January 2004

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Ambulance Train, Possibly in France Given the French Soldiers, But France Also Deployed Troops to the Italian Front

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Wartime Illustrations in French Children's Magazines
From the Collection of Tony Langley

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Full page color illustration from the French children's weekly Les Trois Couleurs,
Issue no. 25, by Robert de Grandval

If it had been in the U.S.A. in 1954 when this drawing was made instead of France during the Great War, it's a good bet that the Kefauver Comic Book Hearings would have had something uncharitable to say about the gory violence, mayhem, and fury displayed in this magazine illustration for children. Nevertheless, such illustrations were common in publications for young people. TL  

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

More on Those WWI Cigarette and Trade Cards
From Cyril Mazansky

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More on Cigarette and Trade Cards of WWI

The cigarette and trade companies that issued cards on all topics imaginable produced a flurry of card sets, particularly during the first two years of the war. This was particularly so before rationing limited their production. They covered every aspect of the war from the leaders — regal, political, military, and naval — through arms and armor of all types. Scenes from military actions and naval battles were also well illustrated. Other aspects such as propaganda, the home front, and news media were also covered in these cards. The many military awards, especially the Victoria Cross, were covered in detail. Most of the cards had descriptive backs that mostly provided informative material. However, a striking aspect of these descriptions was that they were almost always written in a highly patriotic fashion.

Shown here is a selection of motor vehicles adopted for war presented by Wills's Cigarettes.

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Duffy's War
Reviewed by David F. Beer

Duffy's War: Fr. Francis Duffy, Wild Bill Donovan,
and the Irish Fighting 69th in World War 1

By Stephen L. Harris
Published by Potomac Books, Inc., 2006

If you want to get a real feeling for what is so often called the American Experience in World War One you could do little better than read the classic trilogy by Stephen L. Harris, of which Duffy's War is the final volume. Harris's earlier books deal with the New York Silk Stocking Regiment and the 369th Infantry of black soldiers known as the Harlem's Hell Fighters. Duffy's War focuses on the New York National Guard's "Fighting 69th," which became the Army's 165th Infantry. The regiment was part of the 42nd Rainbow Division although not an element of the brigade commanded by Douglas MacArthur.

As its title implies, much of the book circles around the legendary Catholic priest, Father Francis Duffy, but "Wild Bill" Donovan (later to found the SOS), General Frank McCoy, the poet Joyce Kilmer ("Trees" and "Rouge Bouquet") who was killed, and others all play their part in the narrative. However, the main character, the one who permeates the book and brings home to us the unvarnished foot-slogging monotony of the war plus its dreadful combat horrors, is the band of New York Irish-Americans who make up the Fighting 69th. [Note: The New York 69th Regiment was redesignated the 165th Infantry Regiment for its time with the AEF.]

There's no doubt the regiment Father Duffy became attached to was an Irish-American outfit. A veritable waterfall of Celtic names shower us as we follow the activities of the 69th—Conley, Connors, Donovan, Doughney, Finnerty, Flanagan and so on to O'Brien, O'Connell, O'Rourke, plus Reilley, Ryan, Shannon, Sheahan, Tierney, and many others. These sons of Irish immigrants--or immigrants themselves--form their own culture and national pride, love Ireland almost as much as their adopted land, and uniformly despise England. Many Americans questioned whether they would even fight in a war that put them on the same side as the British, and prior to the U.S. declaration of war a strong anti-war movement composed of Irish-American politicians and others existed in the United States. Yet these Irish-Americans answered the call in large numbers and became patriotic and effective soldiers.

Before the regiment made its way to the front lines, where it spent some 170 days and suffered hundreds killed and thousands wounded, it first had to endure the rigors of days on the march through the Vosges Mountains. Although not particularly mountainous, the range is rugged enough and the 165th negotiated it in the dead of winter, covering fifteen to twenty miles each day. We learn how ill-equipped the troops were for such weather and terrain. Much emphasis is placed on the hobnailed shoes the troops had been issued that split so badly that men hiked with frozen feet in the snow. During the four-day march five men died of exhaustion and mules dropped dead on the trails. Kitchens were stuck far behind in mud and snow and the men went hungry. Many were too tired by nightfall to want to eat anyway. Some begged for morsels from French villagers who watched a "ragged, shivering, and starving army" plod by. Even when they reached their destination, supplies lagged far behind. The medical officer found that many men had been unable to change their clothes, including underwear, for two months. Platoon commanders ordered their men to change their socks daily due to the danger of trench foot.

Father Duffy's Statue
Times Square, NY
The troops soon saw intense action at the front, taking part in five major engagements involving, as one soldier described it, many days of "savage attacks and counter-attacks." These are described by the author with unflinching impact, and although the book is 379 pages of solid history based on numerous sources, Duffy's War reads like an exciting historical novel as it moves along with countless details and insights and vividly brings major actions and characters to the forefront.

One such person, the poet Joyce Kilmer, recorded much of this action, and his observations were published as a memoir after his death. He was also moved to poetry by his experiences and wrote one of his best poems as a result of what happened-- "In a Wood They Call the Rouge Bouquet." When Kilmer was killed in action on 29 July 1918, many comrades were greatly affected by his death, and they buried him with great respect where he had died, "between a grove of trees that ran along the bank [of the Ourcq River] and the wheat field.…We sure hated to see him get killed." (p. 292)

Meanwhile, never far from the action, the figure of Father Duffy looms in the background and often in the foreground. He is "among his boys in the muck." He is a comfort to the troops, realistic and godly but never pious or righteous. One private felt Duffy's courage inspired the troops in action because "Wherever things were the hottest there was Father Duffy, crawling around from shell hole to shell hole." The same private at one point saw Duffy "with red eyes burying our dead right out in the open….He was digging away with a pick by himself, just as cool as though planting potatoes in his backyard." (p. 353) Father Duffy, we learn, is not above getting involved in military shenanigans either and actively plots and schemes to get the leader he wants--Wild Bill Donovan, in command of the 165th Infantry once the war is over.

Much of this book is based on the diary Father Duffy kept during the war and then published as Father Duffy's Story (New York, 1919). The book was republished in 2007 as Father Duffy's Story: A Tale of Humor and Heroism, of Life and Death with the Fighting Sixty-Ninth, and is still in print. Duffy Square, in the northern triangle of Times Square in Manhattan, is the home of the good Father's imposing statue. The classic 1940 movie The Fighting 69th, starring James Cagney and Pat O'Brien (as Duffy), still brings this brave band of Irish-Americans back to life for us, just as Stephen Harris's excellent book most undoubtedly does.

David F. Beer

Monday, July 22, 2013

Bulgaria's Role in the War

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       Bulgarian Soldiers of the Great War
From Top: Infantryman, Artillery General and Gunner, Cavalryman, and Irregular
(Image from Tony Langley's Collection)
Slavic, Orthodox Bulgaria played a role in World War I completely out of proportion to its size. Overlooking their historic hatred of the Turk and past allegiance to Slavic Russia, they entered the Great War in 1915 on the side of the Central Powers with the single objective of reversing the territorial settlements of the 1912–13 Balkan Wars. A nation of less than five million, Bulgaria mobilized an army of 1.2 million soldiers. These troops helped force the Serbian Army to abandon their own country, drove the French and British expeditionary forces back to the Salonika perimeter, participated in the defeat of Rumania, and, for the last year of the war, were the principal sentinels at the Balkan "back door" into central Europe. But playing a major role in a world war proved exhausting for the small country. By the spring of 1918 food shortages become severe at home and Bulgarian troops had to subsist on a barley bread with straw filler. On 29 September 1918, after their forces collapsed under pressure on the Salonika Front, Bulgaria became the first Central Power to sign an armistice. In three years of war the Bulgarian forces lost a quarter of a million men killed, wounded, or captured.

The end game in the Balkans by the leading American authority on that aspect of the Great War.

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Sunday, July 21, 2013

An Anzac Alphabet

From the Journal of the Australian War Memorial

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At Anzac

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Satirical Maps from the Early War

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Europe 1914 Drawn by Walter Trier

One form of relatively lighthearted propaganda early in the war involved satirical maps used to mock and stereotype the opposing nations. They were produced by both sides and neutrals. This example was drawn by a Czech artist living in Berlin in 1914 named Walter Trier. Germany and Austria-Hungary are shown stoutly defending their homelands. Russia, on the other hand, is a nasty voracious giant, while France is confused and an angry Great Britain (with all the Irishmen in Ireland apparently having emigrated) is ready to unleash its fleet. The artist seems to have a particular grievance against the Slavs in the Baltic. Bulgaria is depicted as a mini-Russia, Serbia as a swine, and Montenegro as a louse. Interestingly, Trier was Jewish and ended up in London in 1940 drawing cartoons for the Allies. One last point—this sort of humorous propaganda piece disappeared after 1915. Too many graves had been dug to be funny about the war any more.

To see more examples and learn more about these delicious satirical maps, visit the excellent blog Unto the Ends of the Earth.

Friday, July 19, 2013

A Call for Support to Our Readers

Signal Flag for "Message Coming"

Thank you for visiting Roads to the Great War,

If you are enjoying our new WWI blog, please help us spread the word and build up our readership. On the top line above our masthead, you will see the slightly mysterious word "More." However, if you click on that word you will be able to recommend us to your fellow military history and World War I enthusiasts via Facebook, Twitter, or email. Please do so. It will help build our traffic and make us more viable.

Also, whether you are one of the many new visitors to Roads or a veteran, please check the archive listing on the right side of the home page. There is surely material of particular interest to you that we have already published in our 66 postings to date. We don't want you to miss some of our best articles and images.

19 July 1948
John J. Pershing Laid to Rest

Sixty-five years ago today, John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces, was laid to rest at Arlington Cemetery with a simple soldier's headstone marking his grave. He had died at age 87 on 15 July 1948 at Walter Reed Hospital. The burial marked three days of mourning for the Iron General that included a lying in state at the nation's Capitol, a funeral procession and national ceremony at the cemetery. A full account can be found at the U.S. Army Center for Military History.

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       From Top: Pershing After the War; Burial Site; Pershing with Honor Guard at the Capitol
Still the two best Pershing biographies available.

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Thursday, July 18, 2013

18 July 1918
Ludendorff Meets His Nemesis

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On 15 July Erich von Ludendorff's fifth offensive of the year floundered at the Marne River. He had called the operation off within two days because what he really had his heart set on was defeating the British Army in Flanders. It was his last chance at achieving his objective of defeating one of Germany's two original main opponents in the west before a third newcomer, the United States, could be a decisive force.

To this end, he convened a planning meeting on the morning of 18 July at Tournai for discussing his next offensive, Operation Hagen, to be directed against the British Army in the north. Ludendorff opened the conference by dismissing any possibility of a counteroffensive against  the large salient his forces were occupying between the Aisne and Marne Rivers. Almost as soon as he made the statement, reports started arriving that the Allies were launching a major assault on that salient. The meeting was adjourned, the salient was reinforced using forces reserved for Hagen, and on 20 July the new operation was cancelled. The Second Battle of the Marne was underway and had Ludendorff's full attention. There would not be another German offensive in the Great War.

The Allies—now coordinated by Ferdinand Foch—had seized the initiative and would never relinquish it. Foch had studied the German operations earlier in the year and had not only anticipated the attack of 15 July, he had put American and French forces in the perfect position to launch an assault which could threaten the capture of an entire army of the now spent enemy. Foch proved to be the perfect opponent, a nemesis, for Ludendorff's and the German General Staff's approach to war. Ludendorff had fostered a theoretical and inflexible approach, out of touch with the realities of the battlefield and the capabilities of the enemy, during his 1918 offensives. Foch, on the other hand, proved adept at deciphering what his opponent was up to, better able to judge the capabilities of the men under his command, and at keeping focused on the strategic and political goals of military operations. Foch in 1918 proved more of a practitioner of Carl von Clausewitz than did the countryman of the great military philosopher. He was the greatest general of 1918—the man of the hour, or rather, the man of the year.

A brief, but highly information biography of the key commander of 1918, Ferdinand Foch

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Steve Miller Continues
The Pursuit of Lufbery

In recent editions of Roads to the Great War, we have discussed the notable service of aviator Raoul Lufbery (18 June 2013) and discovered that a monument to him exists in the village of Maron (22 June 2013). Little did we realize that our own Steve Miller has done field research on the great dual veteran of the Lafayette Escadrille and 94th Aero Squadron. He has visited both the actual crash site of Lufbery and his final resting place at the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial outside Paris on the Villeneuve-l'√Čtang estate. Here are Steve's reconnaissance photos.

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Two, very different but excellent works on the Lafayette Escadrille

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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Toward the Flame, A Memoir of World War I
Reviewed by Ron Drees

Toward the Flame, A Memoir of World War I

By Hervey Allen
Reprint of 1934 Issue by Univ. of Nebraska Press, 2003

Hervey Allen (1889–1949) was a critically acclaimed writer of poetry, prose, and fiction, including the popular novel Anthony Adverse. In his memoir, considered by many to be the best American memoir to come out of World War I, Allen surprisingly does not start where the reader might expect him to, namely with stateside training and so forth, but plunges us immediately into his life as a slogging infantryman arriving in the Marne sector, marching constantly at all hours regardless of weather or exhaustion, dodging shell bursts, and always enduring hunger. No trench warfare here. Only at the beginning does Allen give a date, 4 July 1918. Otherwise the reader is like a typical Doughboy, lost as to time and location.

Allen accurately describes the minutiae necessary to survive war:

In order to keep from drawing a shelling, the men had not moved anything in the yard. There was a child's bicycle by the station and a little wagon. To have moved these would have shown up in aerial photos and might have brought a bombardment on that part of the town.

Throughout his memoir Allen describes the attrition of war, especially the hideous affronts of war upon soldiers' bodies and minds. Describing the effects of a shell burst he reports: Then we heard those awful agonized screams and cries for help that so often followed. It is impossible to make people at home understand what listening to them does to your brain. You never get rid of them again.

Allen continues his observations of the war as a semi-detached observer throughout his book and it is only toward the end that he records how his unit, a company down to less than half strength, finally comes in direct contact with the enemy. They are continually whittled down by German artillery at the battle of Fismette village, part of the Second Battle of the Marne, while the withdrawal order of an American officer is overruled by an obsessed French general. The narrative ends as Allen's troops are overwhelmed by German flamethrowers, thus explaining the title of his memoir.

Because of his injuries from this battle, Allen spent considerable time in hospital. This provided him the opportunity to write letters home which later were to become the basis of his book. Eventually he recovered, returned to combat, and finished the war, whereupon he became an interpreter. Read this classic book if the experiences of ground pounders are of interest to you, even if it is hardly a document for those specializing in strategy or the "higher levels" of war. Without doubt the mundane, the horrors, the basic tactics, and the sheer pounding dreariness of life under combat are all effectively portrayed in an incisive manner for those interested in what it was really like to be in WWI.

Ron Drees

Monday, July 15, 2013

15 July 1918
The Rock of the Marne

Ninety-five years ago today the German Army launched the fifth of the their "Ludendorff Offensives" on the front between Chateau-Thierry and Reims. Along the western half of the sector this meant mounting an assault across the Marne River.  The key crossing  point was five miles east of Chateau-Thierry around the village of Mezy.  Just behind Mezy was the opening to a valley which—if entered—would allow the attackers to penetrate the Allies' rear deeply.  Defending on either side of Mezy were two regiments of the American Third Division.   Their action here  on 15 July 1918 helped halt the last German offensive of World War I. 

This is how an American Official History records the event:

On July 15, 1918, the 38th Infantry of the 3d Infantry Division successfully defended its position on the Paris-Metz railroad, 200 yards from the River Marne, against six German attacks. It was the last great offensive of the German Army and the first fight of the 38th Infantry in World War I. Initially, the Germans succeeded in driving a wedge 4,000 yards deep into the 38th Infantry’s front while the U.S. 30th Infantry on its left and the French 125th Division on its right withdrew under heavy pressure. With the situation desperate, the regiment stood and fought. The two flanks of the 38th Infantry moved toward the river, squeezing the German spearhead between them and exposing it to heavy shelling by the 3d Division artillery. The German Army’s offensive failed. With this brave stand the 38th Infantry earned its nom de guerre Rock of the Marne. General John J. Pershing declared its stand “one of the most brilliant pages in our military annals.”

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       From Top: U.S. Army Official Painting of the Battle,  Colonel Ulysses Grant McAlexander, Commander 38th Infantry, the German Crossing Site on the Marne today, 3rd Division Memorial at Chateau-Thierry, Wounded Men of 30th & 38th Infantry on 15 July 1918
This is how the Germans later recalled that day:

... All [German] divisions [along the Marne] achieved brilliant successes, with the exception of the one division on our right wing. This encountered American units! Here only did the Seventh Army, in the course of the first day of the offensive, confront serious difficulties. It met with the unexpectedly stubborn and active resistance of fresh American troops.

While the rest of the divisions of the Seventh Army succeeded in gaining ground and gaining tremendous booty, it proved impossible for us to move the right apex of our line, to the south of the Marne, into a position advantageous for the development of the ensuing fight. The check we thus received was one result of the stupendous fighting between our 10th Division of infantry and American troops ...
Erich von Ludendorff, Quartermaster General

I have never seen so many dead. I have never seen such a frightful spectacle of war. On the other bank the Americans, in close combat, had destroyed two of our companies. Lying down in the wheat, they had allowed our troops to approach and then annihilated them at a range of 30 to 50 yards. "The Americans kill everyone," was the cry of fear on July 15—a cry that caused our men to tremble for a long time.

Lt. Kurt Hesse, Adjutant, German 5th Grenadiers 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

14 July 1919
Victory Parade in Paris

The peace treaty had been signed on 28 June 1919 by the statesmen, but the military needed its own ceremonial ending for the conflict.  Bastille Day, the great holiday of republican France was chosen for the occasion.  Here is a selection of photos and a contemporary news account of the grand day.

The Fourteenth of July at Paris
Staff Correspondence by Elbert Francis Baldwin
Paris, 14 July 1919

8 a.m. Avenue du Bois. The sun is now full upon the Triumphal Arch, close by. The chains which guard the entrance to the Arch have been removed. The ceremony will be begun by a delegation of a thousand men from those who have been maimed in the war. They will advance through the Arch to the cenotaph erected last week to the memory of the dead in the war and will salute that altar before taking seats reserved for them. (The first thought of France always goes to her dead.) Very many of the mutiles have one leg, one arm, one eye gone. Many are on crutches. Nearly all wear medals — the Croix de Guerre or the Legion of Honor or the Medaille Militaire. Some cannot walk; some, with both legs gone, can never walk. These are wheeled on long, low chairs by the more able-bodied wounded or by nurses. Some of the mutiles are totally blind and are led by their comrades. But their faces are transfigured. Tears streaming down his face, one of the blind exclaimed : "I feel it all. I see!"

8:30 a.m. Avenue de la Grande Armee. From my perch here, to which I hastened half an hour ago, lean watch the procession pass along this, its first street, and can also see it pass under the Arc de Triomphe near by. With the broad Avenue des Champs Elysees, the equally broad Avenue de la Grande Armee forms a west-to-east line through the Arch. The ample sidewalks are densely crowded; it is hard to wedge your way through. Those persons who have not been able to elevate themselves over the heads of others on chairs, stages, or stepladders have dis covered that, after all, they are favored; they are now gazing up into the tilted tinted glass signs over the shops, which perfectly reflect what is going on in the middle of the street.

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       From Top: American Troops Passing Through the Arc;  Marshals Joffre and Foch Lead the Parade; British Troops; View from Top of Arc
A cannon booms, its echo taken up by the cheering thousands on the sidewalks and balconies and roofs and wherever they can find a place. The procession is starting from the Porte Maillot, which leads from the suburb of Neuilly into the city proper. In less time than one would fancy a squadron of the Republican Guard, in gala attire, comes in sight, a serried rank of red, black, white, and glittering brass.

Then a space of twenty yards or so, and a mighty shout rises from the people. For there, riding side by side, are Joffre and Foch. The two Marshals appear like two slowly moving statues, representing the genius and glory of France. They seem to unite all a warrior's qualities — the cold head, the warm heart; originality and initiative, energy and efficiency ; finally, the readiness to sacrifice, whether themselves, their men, or their territory. Of course the two Marshals stand specially for the Marne; one for the first battle there, nearly five years ago, and the other for the second battle, a year ago. The relief of the crowd on seeing Joffre actually in the parade finds quick expression. By an incredible and painful oversight or intention (which recalls the treatment of General Wood at home), the name of the hero who had saved Paris in 1914 had not appeared in the official announcements. "L'lntransigcant " and other papers made such a protest that the blunder was atoned for as far as could be. As he passes "Papa Joffre" looks portlier and more paternal than ever. But those of us who are his special admirers fancy that we detect a sadness in his face — as of one who had met a new disillusionment Foch's attitude towards his senior is admirable — he always keeps his horse just the least bit in the rear of Joffre's mount. Each Marshal wears the uniform in which he has become best known: Joffre in black dolman and red trousers and Foch wholly in gray.

As Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Forces, Foch leads detachments from those forces. First comes Foch's Staff, a large body of well-mounted officers. Then (as seems appropriate to us Americans!) come our own detachments in their alert, special West Point step — a hundred and thirty instead of the usual hundred and twenty steps to the minute Our men are in ideally exact block for mation. . .Our soldiers are headed by martial, stern-looking General Pershing. His cap visor and his chin seem on about the same angle. The composite battalion of infantry, made up of the best men from all the divisions, is followed by a naval detach ment, which is getting even greater ap plause from the crowd. Yet, despite the bands' "Over There," all our men look a bit solemn, and a voice near me rings out: "Sonriez un pen."

The "smile a little" has its effect upon the heavier-moving, less military-looking Belgians who follow more smil ingly, General Guillain at their head. . . Following the Belgians come the British. Field-Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, Commander-in-Chief, leads them. . .Next to the satisfaction of finding Marshal Joffre in the parade is the people's pleasure in seeing Marshal Haig there, for they had not been informed that he would be.

As have been all Parisians throughout the war, so the people about me are much im pressed by the British officers' smart appearance. . .The onlookers are now frankly admiring the supple, muscular quality of the men trudging by, the bare-kneed Scotch and the bluejackets being the most warmly received.

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From Top: General Pershing and Marshal Foch; Greek Contingent; Australian and New Zealand Troops; U.S. Navy Band; Marshal Joffre and Others Decorating Standard Bearers
Now come the Italians, briskly moving to the strains of their national anthem. I expected to hear a sharp comment or two concerning the crisis at Fiume the other day between some French and some Italians, but there are no such comments about me — only hearty applause, which the Alpini well deserve. Besides, the French can hardly forget the blood from the south spilled for them in the Champagne, where the Italian regiments lost half their effectives.

Now follow the Japanese. . .and here is another surprise — the Greeks, no longer in the short white skirt, but in tight white trousers. Of all the nations, the Poles, now passing, are getting the most strenuous applause so far, save that for Americans. They are not many in number, but as their white eagle heaves in sight the past history, present plight, and future dreams of Poland seem to find vent in respon sive shouts of sympathy.

Now follow the bronzed and swarthy Portuguese; well set-up Romanians; nerv ous-looking, resolute Serbs; strange-looking agile Siamese ; and, finally, the men who seem to come closest to the Poles in Parisian esteem, the Czechoslovaks, in dark-blue caps and many wearing the red fourragere won in the French army.

But where is Russia? — not Bolshevist Russia of the past year, but the Ally who sacrificed two million men that this Peace Day might come? Where are the representatives now in Paris of those martyrs?

Now there is appropriately a pause of some moments before the second half of the procession appears. It is led by the Commander-in-Chief of the French Army, the hero of Verdun, Marshal Petain. He looks younger, he is more athletic and buoyant, slenderer, and more graceful than his portraits show. He sits his white horse with juvenile ease. He smiles frankly. Behind him rides one who ought to be the fourth Marshal of France — Castelnau, who saved Nancy and the east front. Every one notes the black brassard ou his arm; everyone is saying, "He lost all his sons in the war."

A similar movement of sympathy there is as one-armed Gouraud rides by. He is the symbol of duty and sacrifice. Of the other generals, Mangin, the square-jawed, gets the lion's share of applause. All know the story of the final phase of the war and of Mangin's tenacity iu grappling with the Boche, in downing him, and in holding him down.

But what shall we say of the poilu himself? — our poilu too, as he seems, for not only did he fight from the first day to the last day of the war, he fought for all of us. There are many of him, representing the twenty-one corps of the army proper, a company from each regiment which had earned the fourragere of the highest rank. They pass by to the music of the " Chant du Depart," the " Marche Lorraine," the "Sambre-et-Meuse." They pass by bearing flags full of holes. Then come the armies of the Orient and of Africa followed by men from the navy, the cavalry, the airmen.

The procession has taken two hours to pass. But other men also follow — the heroes who have given their lives for La Patrie. They indeed do not merely follow. They are everywhere. One feels their presence in all the ranks of marching men.

Source: The Outlook, 6 August 1919

Saturday, July 13, 2013

A Notable Weapon of the Great War
The Lewis Gun

An American design, originally turned down by the American Army, the Lewis gun was one of the most successful light machine guns of the war. Gas-operated and fed by a pan-shaped magazine holding 47 or 97 rounds, the weapon could fire .303-inch rounds at a rate of 450-500 per minute. Its sole handicaps were its complicated firing mechanism and 25-pound weight. As suggested in the graphic below, it was also used extensively in the air war. Over 50,000 Lewis guns were manufactured for use in World War I.  The weapon was also used extensively by British Commonwealth forces in the Second World War.

The illustration below—from Tony Langley's collection—also includes a drawing of the French Hotchkiss machine gun used by American forces when they entered the war.

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Friday, July 12, 2013

Remembering a Veteran:
PFC Harry H. Hoyman, AEF Siberia

Harry Hoyman at Camp Fremont, CA

Imagine a typical World War I action movie that starts out as usual with the boys going through boot camp under a tough old sergeant before heading overseas to meet their fates on the battlefields.  About about a third of the way through the film, the drill instructor comes into the barracks and says, "Pack up men, we're heading overseas."  Then one of the new soldiers asks, "When are we getting to France, Sarge?"  In one authentic version of this movie (yet to be made) the old NCO turns to the young trooper and says, "Son, we ain't going to France; we're going to Siberia."

Members of the Czech Legion in Siberia

Something like this actually happened to some American soldiers in the Great War.  One of those Doughboys was a draftee from Freeport, Illinois, named Harry Hoyman (1892-1989).  Harry was training with the 8th Infantry of the new 8th Division at Camp Fremont, California, when his orders came down.  For reasons that are still unfathomable today, President Wilson authorized U.S. soldiers be sent to northern Russia and Siberia when the post-revolution civil war was being waged there.  Apparently, it had something to do with Czech Legionnaires, guarding the Trans-Siberian Railroad, or keeping an eye on what the Japanese Army was up to.  Harry and his mates in the Siberian Expeditionary Force never quite understood, and it has gotten much cloudier in concept after nearly a century.  We won't pursue the matter here.

American Soldiers Guarding the Railroads

Nonetheless, the Americans in Siberia faced similar dangers, survived comparable adventures, and dealt with the same tedium as those on the Western Front.  Plus, they were a lot colder. Harry Hoyman was a little older and more experienced than his mates, and grasped that he gotten himself involved in a unique venture.  He photographed and recorded the mission to Siberia and eventually self-published his material in 1972 in what was, for a time, a forgotten manuscript titled My Year in Siberia.  Luckily for us, a member of the Great War Society—from the same county as Harry, Stephenson County, Illinois—Alice Horner is a dedicated genealogist. She took on the mission to ensure that the county's men who had served in the war were not to be forgotten.  Alice brought Harry's service and memoir to our attention several years ago and we have made selections from Harry's volume available online at:

After the war, Harry returned to Freeport. He worked during his career as an accountant with the Ford Motor Company and as an office manager for the Schacht-Tuck Company.  He also regularly attended reunions with his fellow Siberia veterans and relived the great adventure of his life.

Harry Hoyman (2nd from left) and Mates Hosting Visitors


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Images and Voices of Verdun
From Steve Miller and O'Brien Browne

Click on Image to Expand

Verdun Today

Photos by Steve Miller

Verdun Described by the Participants

Flying over the battlefield, American pilot Edwin Parsons, a volunteer for France and a member of the famous Escadrille Lafayette, saw below him how:
Nature had been ruthlessly murdered. Every sign of humanity had been swept away. Roads had vanished, and forests were fire-blackened stumps. Villages were gray smears where stone walls were tumbled together. Only the faintest outlines of the great forts of Douaumont and Vaux could be traced against the churned up background....only broken, half obliterated links of the trenches were visible.

Nothing in the war ever equaled the intense slaughter and gothic, nightmarish qualities of Verdun.

We had no communication with the rear for three days and nights because the bombardment did not let up. We were not even able to get our rations and we only ate biscuits and chocolate and there was almost nothing to drink; finally we were able to get our rations but with a lot of difficulty; therefore, we're glad to get out of here because we've been completely brutalized by the bombardment; one has to have a strong heart to endure such a martyrdom. This is not war, it's a massacre. Oh! when will it end? It's terrible to see what's happening...

~ Letter from a soldier in the line before Fleury, June 1916

I stayed ten days next to a man who was chopped in two; there was no way to move him; he had one leg on the parapet and the rest of this body in the trench. It stank and I had to chew tobacco the whole time in order to endure this torment...

~ Letter from a soldier in the line near Thiaumont, June 1916

It's an unending Hell. I live in a casement at the bottom of the fort with the light on day and night. You can't go out for fear of shell fragments which fall daily into the trenches and onto the fort. In a word, it is solitude in all its horror; when will this veritable martyrdom end?

~ Letter from a soldier in Fort Choisel, June 1916

From: O'Brien Browne's, "Voices from Verdun," Great War Society article, Winter 1998

Alistair Horne's epic and enthralling account of Verdun is still the best available in the English language.

Order Now

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Plattsburg Movement
Where General Pershing Found His Officers

General Pershing's full expeditionary force was to be over four million men by 1919, requiring hundreds of thousands of officers. This number was greater than the size of the entire United States Army when America joined the war in April 1917. Where were these officers to be found? It all began in the summer of 1913 with the idea of establishing a training program for young civilians. That year the army conducted two experimental camps for college men. General Leonard Wood was chief of staff. It was Wood's political and public relations savvy that initially launched the fledgling attempt at military preparedness. Then, prior to America's entry into the war, one of the most famous journalists of the day stepped up. An immensely popular writer in his day, Richard Harding Davis is chiefly remembered now as an outstanding example of the roving foreign correspondent. Prior to the United States entering World War I, Davis gave the nation's military capacity a boost when he published an article in Colliers magazine, “The Plattsburg Idea,” to encourage the spread of the voluntary training camps from which he was a graduate. Contributor William Glidden takes the story from there.


G. William Glidden, MAJOR ( R ) USA
Deputy Town of Plattsburgh, New York, Historian

The training camps, designed to be seminaries for propagandists who preached preparedness to the civilian population, developed the cause of patriotic service to the extent that military training became highly acceptable. One result, the draft riots of the Civil War became unheard of during World War I.

Chief of Staff Leonard Wood, Supporter of the Camps


In Colliers Richard Harding Davis published the article “The Plattsburg Idea” to encourage the spread of voluntary training camps. He defended the aims in preparedness against such opponents as Henry Ford, whom he quoted: “any man who chooses to be a soldier is either lazy or crazy and should be placed in an asylum.” Davis further remarked, “should war come, Ford may be among the first to run shrieking to those lazy and crazy officers to protect his life and millions.” Direction for the training camp movement came from a young New York lawyer, Grenville Clark. Clark’s ideal of the citizens’ obligations for public service became the essence of the Plattsburg Idea. With a few associates he agreed to recruit a hundred volunteers from business and professional men. Their military training would be at their own expense, if the War Department cooperated by furnishing proper instruction. On 22 June 1915 General Order No. 38 authorized young businessmen and professionals to pay their own way to the training camps. They planned the strategy and organized the civilian groups. In August 1915 strenuous efforts and a public rally in New York City produced a first training class of 1,200 at the Plattsburg Barracks. A year had passed since the German entry into Brussels.

Both influential younger leaders of the community and immature undergraduates from colleges came to the camp. The muster rolls at Plattsburg sounded like Who’s Who and the Social Register combined. The Roosevelts came with the Chandlers, Fishes, and Milburns. Among the first noted to train with them were: Robert Bacon, former Secretary of State and Ambassador to France; John Purray Mitchell, young reform mayor of New York City; Arthur Woods, New York City police commissioner; and Richard Harding Davis. The public read of millionaires doing "kitchen police," digging trenches, and caught the message behind the incongruity. The sort of men who went to Plattsburgh, the publicity that occurred, and the emphasis on officer training gave a distinct elitism to the movement. This would change in the camps of 1916, and especially the camps of 1917 and 1918. Upon return from training in 1915, the Military Training Camps Association (MTCA) became organized. During the fall of 1915 and the early months of 1916, the MTCA began to apply more pressure upon Congress, as Congress debated the National Defense Act. The organizers of the MTCA chose to work within the system instead of fighting it and in so doing salvage what they could of the controversial bills. They managed to secure the result in the passage of Section 54 of the act.

Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., at Plattsburg
He Would Be a Distinguished Officer in Both World Wars

On 11 April 1916 Richard Harding Davis died. Upon his death General Leonard Wood remarked, “The Plattsburg Movement took a very strong hold of Davis. Davis saw in this great instrument for building up a sound knowledge concerning our military history and policy, also a very practical way of training men for the duties of junior officers. He realized fully that we should need in case of war tens of thousands of officers with our newly raised troops, and that it would be utterly impossible to prepare them in the hurry and confusion of the onrush of modern war. His heart filled with a desire to serve his country to the best of his ability. His recent experience in Europe pointed out to him the absolute madness of prolonging and disregarding the need for doing those things which cannot be accomplished after the trouble is upon us.”

Richard Harding Davis, 1914 Passport Photo

A year later, in April of 1917, by a request to Congress, President Wilson declared war. The Plattsburg Movement became the basis of recruiting influence in military policy. By the signing of the Armistice in 1918, approximately 100,000 officer candidates, nearly one half of the officer corps, graduated from the Plattsburg Movement. The birth of "the 90-day wonder" had taken place.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

August 1914
Reviewed by Michael Kihntopf

August 1914

By Alexandr Solzhenitsyn
Published by Bantam Books, 1974

Where does one begin in reviewing a time-honored piece of Russian literature? By eulogizing the author or diving right into the work itself? After long deliberation I chose the path of remembrance, for without that past history the purpose of August 1914 is somewhat lost in the translation.

Alexandr Solzhenitsyn was born in Ukraine in December 1918, a product of both the Bolshevik Revolution and the Civil War, which had its roots in that month. His mother was the daughter of a Kuban estate owner, while his father was an officer of the Imperial Russian Army and a native of the Caucasus region. Solzhenitsyn's father was killed in an accident before his birth, leaving his up-bringing to his mother and an aunt. By the mid-1930s, the Civil War and Josef Stalin's collectivization program had swallowed the Kuban estate. Mother and son had survived the years by hiding the father's imperial connection. Solzhenitsyn's well-educated mother encouraged her son's literary and scientific endeavors as well as seeing to an exposure to the Russian Orthodox faith. It was during his studying at Rostov State University that he began developing August 1914. After graduation in 1940 he began a short military career as the commander of a sound ranging battery. In 1945 he was arrested over comments made in personal letters about both the conduct of the war and Stalin and was sentenced to eight years in the labor camps. Before his imprisonment, Solzhenitsyn never questioned the integrity of the Soviet Union's leadership or its direction in domestic or world politics. That attitude changed in the prison camps, as is evidenced in another one of his later books entitled Gulag Archipelago. From those experiences he gleaned the basis for his other works, which were rewarded by winning the Nobel Prize in Literature. Solzhenitsyn died in 2008 in Russia.

August 1914 was to be the beginning of a huge work which would deal with Russia's part in the Great War, continue through the Revolution, and end with the Civil War. In this first volume, Solzhenitsyn weaves a story around the Battle of Tannenberg. He begins calmly enough by displaying a picture of life among the estate owners in the Kuban area during the first weeks of the war. None of his characters see the war as lasting longer than a few months, and, therefore, they see it as having little impact on their lives or the social structure. It was the author's intention to show these people as industrious yet useless to society as a whole. Zakhar Tomchak, the patriarch of the estate, is a man of innovation investing in machinery to modernize his estate's farming practices while his son, Roman, wants to throw off the country demeanor for the bright lights of Moscow and beyond. Roman's sister, Xenya, depicts the generation that had become useless: she wants to drop her university studies in agronomy for a course in barefoot dancing. From there the author takes the reader to the East Prussian battlefield where the main character Colonel Georgii Vorotyntsev is introduced as a General Headquarters staff officer sent to Alexandr Samsonov's Second Army to ascertain how well the invasion is going. Vorotyntsev is a cut above other officers of his own rank and superiors. Through his eyes and those of Samsonov, readers see the incompetence of the Russian Army's leadership in those early weeks of the war.

Solzhenitsyn was well versed in the happenings around the Battle of Tannenberg. The book contains minute details of unit placements, their movements, and an accurate description of the battle's hourly development. A reader could use this book as a source document for creating a non-fiction work. However, it is a novel and in that regard the author becomes the narrator of the personal dilemmas that commanders and soldiers go through during the fateful days of 13–16 August (old style dating; 27–30 August, western calendar). The character analysis that the author portrays through dialogues and expressing inner, unvoiced thoughts is very believable. General officers try to avoid responsibility at the expense of their own safety or second-guess their decisions to sacrifice lives which causes garbled or vague orders. Mid-level officers become the leaders because of their superiors' indecision or lack of direction only to falter when superiors refuse to affirm their actions or reinforce their gains. As a result, the Russian offensive becomes a rabble of units acting individually. Finally, the author gives voice to the soldiers who wonder why they are sacrificing their lives. Through these many chapters, the author has in fact set up the three tiers of society which will exist in the Revolution and the Civil War.

August 1914 is a book of monumental proportion to the scholars of the Great War's Eastern Front and of Russian history at the beginning of that war. There are cliches throughout the book that a reader must deal with and discard as a sign of Soviet rhetoric. Solzhenitsyn attempts to help the reader in seeing the fallacy of the state's concepts. Estate owners are shown as innovative and industrious, sharing with their workers in the profits instead of exploiting them. Russian generals are shown as incompetent, but German organization in artillery, transportation, and logistics gets as much credit for the defeat at Tannenberg as stupidity does. At times the reading becomes tedious (my copy had 714 pages), but the book is well worth the effort.

Michael Kihntopf