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

Saturday, May 31, 2014

31 May 1918: It Was the Machine Gunners of the 3rd Division Who Showed Up First at Château-Thierry

On 30 May, after being released by General Pershing, the 2nd and 3rd Divisions of the AEF were ordered to report to the French 6th Army, which had fallen back to the vicinity of Château-Thierry ,where the German penetration had reached its deepest point in France. There was apprehension of the Germans crossing the Marne, at least in sufficient force to seize a bridgehead available for later renewed attacks. It was the 3rd Division that was given the job of defending the Marne river line at Château-Thierry.

Destroyed Bridge at Château Thierry

The division's infantry entrained to go by railroad, a procedure which, because of the demoralization of the French railway service by the German advance, was certain to require several days. One unit of the division, however, was ready to make its own way to the Marne. This was the 7th Machine Gun Battalion, which was equipped with its own motor transport.

The battalion left Laferté-sur-Aube at 2:55 p.m., 30 May. After a 24-hour forced drive, the battalion reported to the French commander at 2:00 p.m. on 31 May and was ordered to proceed at once to Château-Thierry to aid in the defense of the Marne bridges there. Breakdowns and lack of gasoline had delayed some of the cars, but there were 17 machine gun squads present [to continue on].

Arriving at Château-Thierry close to 6:00 p.m., a reconnaissance determined that the 10th French Colonial Division was in contact with the German advance at the northern edge of the city. [Château-Thierry straddles both the northern – its larger section – and southern sides of the Marne.] The battalion set up its guns on the south bank where its fire could defend the approaches to the bridges and in addition could command much of the city on the north side of the Marne.

Machine Gunners of the 7th Machine Gun Battalion on the South Side of the Marne River

When darkness fell that night one section of Company A, under 1st Lt. J.T. Bissell, was sent across the west bridge to take up an outpost position on the north bank. He was to fight a delaying action if attacked, to keep the main line of the battalion notified of developments, and to fall back to the sought bank if attacked in force.

The Germans pounded the south bank that night with a bombardment so severe that in spite of the extended fashion in which the battalion was posted, 14 of its personnel were wounded before morning. In spite of the deterrent effect of the bombardment, by 4:00 a.m. the battalion had 17 guns in position and firing. Belated squads, which had been delayed on the road, arrived from time to time, and these were held in reserve.

During the day of 1 June  the Germans pressed their advance vigorously. To the northwest they drove the French into Belleau Wood, and to the west they took [the village of] Vaux and Hill 204, towering above the surrounding terrain, and thus completely isolated Château-Thierry. They failed, however, to penetrate into the city in force, and much of this failure may be ascribed to the machine gun barrage maintained by the 7th Battalion, which had so set up its guns to command most of the streets in the city on the north bank.

The Germans attempted without success to mask their advance by the use of smoke bombs. In addition, they bombarded the battalion's gun positions but failed to reduce the volume of firing.

After darkness fell the night of the 1st, the Germans began to filter into the city in force. Toward 1:00 a.m., 2 June, Lt. Bissell's outpost party was pushed back by the weight of this advance. Thereupon he led his party toward the west bridge with the intention of crossing to join the rest of the battalion on the south bank.

The German infiltration, however, had come from the northwest and before Bissell's detachment reached the north end of the west bridge, the bridge was occupied in force by Germans. They turned a fierce machine gun fire on the approaching Americans, scattering the detachment.

After the Battle (Note the Fatigue in the Eyes of the Machine Gunners)

Bissell then made his way toward the east bridge accompanied by a few American soldiers and a group of Poilus. They found it impossible to approach of the constant fire directed upon its approaches by the Americans on the south bank. After giving up an attempt to swim the river, Bissell ventured into the field of fire and shouted to the Americans on the south bank until they recognized his voice. As a result of his courage, fire was halted long enough for him and his followers to get across to the south bank.

Unfortunately, during the confusion of the last hectic few minutes of his adventures, Bissell had been informed by a French officer that the west bridge, which he knew was held by Germans, had been crossed successfully by [the enemy]. When Bissell imparted this startling information to the American officer in charge of the defense around the east bridge, the latter ordered a retreat in order to save his detachment from capture. The peculiar error was discovered before it caused any damage, and the Americans returned to the south bank posts they had been holding so effectively.

As a matter of fact, the French had managed to blow up the west bridge before the Germans had crossed it. [Some eyewitnesses reported] a number of Germans about to cross were caught by the explosion and their bodies hurled far into the air and out over the river. At any rate, no German that night or later crossed the Marne into the southern part of Château-Thierry.

Meanwhile, the main body of the 3rd Division, moving more slowly by railroad and later by marching, approached the area with orders to prevent the Germans from crossing the river between Château-Thierry and Dormans [to the east]. The infantry, without artillery or engineers, reached the scene on 3 June. The regiments passed to the control of the French and were assigned defensive positions on the south bank of the Marne.

[By preempting other possibilities for their adversaries advancing south, the 3rd Division had fulfilled its mission, which was to prevent the Germans from crossing the Marne at Château-Thierry.] During June, the scattered elements of the 3rd Division were put to a variety of uses. On  7 and 8 June, the 30th Infantry [long associated with San Francisco's Presidio] assisted the French in their assault on Hill 204. Between 15 and 22 June, the 7th Infantry relieved the Marines in Belleau Wood. The Doughboys also participated in night raids to capture German prisoners for interrogation. Other elements of the division were constantly and somewhat aimlessly shifted around along the south bank of the Marne.

[But] by patiently exerted pressure on the French corps command[er], Major General Dickman commanding the division, at length drew his scattered units together, so that in July it presented a unified front to the enemy along the south bank of the Marne east of Château-Thierry. It was there to play one of the greatest roles falling to an American division during the war.

Sources: 3rd Division ABMC History; Doughboy Center Website

Friday, May 30, 2014

Western Front Virtual Tour — Stop 21: Newfoundland Memorial Park, Beaumont-Hamel

The Large Photo Taken from the Base of the Caribou Monument Is Directed Toward the German Postion at Y-Ravine, a Strongly Fortified and Deep Emplacement at the Base of the Slope.  The Group is Walking Through a Preserved Trench.  The Highlander Statue Honors the 51st Scottish Division, Which Finally Cleared the Site in November 1916.

Facts from Veterans Affairs of Canada

Beaumont-Hamel is located nine kilometres north of the town of Albert in the Department of the Somme.
On 1 July 1916, the opening day of the Battle of the Somme, the Newfoundland Regiment fought its first engagement in France, its costliest of the whole war.

The Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial was dedicated to the memory of those Newfoundlanders who served during the First World War and specifically commemorates those who died and have no known grave. The memorial site was 7 opened June 1925 by Earl Haig.

The memorial is the largest of the five sites in France and Belgium that honor the Newfoundland Regiment. It is 30 hectares (74 acres).
R.H.K. Cochius, originally from Holland, then living in Newfoundland, was the landscape architect for the site design.

The noble bronze caribou is the emblem of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. Basil Gotto, a sculptor from England, created the bronze caribou monument. The caribou stands on a mound, surrounded by rock and shrubs native to Newfoundland, proudly facing in the direction of the former foe and overlooking the trenches and ground across which the battalion advanced on 1 July  1916.

Inscribed on three bronze tablets located at the base of the monument are the 814 names of those members of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, the Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve and the Mercantile Marine who died during the First World War and have no known grave.

At the end of June 1916, the 1st Battalion of the Newfoundland Regiment comprised slightly more than 1,000 all ranks.
On 1 July 1916, 798 all ranks deployed into the trenches (excluding 33 others detached to mortar and machine gun companies), and 22 officers and about 758 other ranks were sent forward against the enemy (approximately 10 percent of a battalion was held in reserve during any attack). Of these, all the officers and slightly under 658 other ranks became casualties. Only around 110 remained unscathed.

The battalion's war diary on 7 July 1916, states that on 1 July the overall casualties for the battalion were 310 all ranks killed, died of wounds, or missing believed killed, and that 374 all ranks were wounded, a total of 684. Some of the wounded subsequently died.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

100 Years Ago: Quotes from May 1914

This paradise of light, beauty, charm & light, but duty calls.
Kaiser Wilhelm from Corfu, 3 May

I, Woodrow Wilson, . . . do hereby direct the government officials to display the United States flag on all government buildings and do invite the people of the United States to display the flag at their homes or other suitable places on the second Sunday in May as a public expression of our love and reverence for the mothers of our country.
Proclamation, 9 May 

The Sprightly Cover Image Belies the Multiple Diplomatic Problems
with Mexico Hinted at in the Secondary Headlines

To wait any longer meant a diminishing of our chances
Conrad von Hötzendorf to Moltke, 12 May

[There is] no reason whatever to avoid [war] but quite the opposite [with] good prospects today to conduct a great European war quickly and victoriously.
Quartermaster General Georg von Waldersee (Moltke Deputy), 18 May

But what will you do if the British do not appear in the German Bight?
Admiral Tirpitz criticizing the German Navy's assumption that the Royal Navy would attempt a close-in blockade

All that is really necessary for the peace of Europe is that nations should give each other the credit for good will and good intentions.  Nations only hate each other if they first think they are hated. . .on the whole it is true today that Governments in the present day are much too busy to be nearly so clever as people think. (Laughter)
Sir Edward Grey, Speech to Foreign Press Association, 20 May

You had enough of sorrow before death —
Away, away! You are safer in the Tomb
William Butler Yeats, To a Shade, May 1914

RMS Empress of Ireland sank in the St. Lawrence River the night of 29 May 1914, after colliding with the Norwegian collier S/S Storstad. The accident took 1012 lives.

The project of the Channel Tunnel is once more under the consideration of the Government. The Liberal party is still in power, building Dreadnoughts and talking peace. Our friendship with France has stood the test of time. Our relations with Germany have become normal and even cordial. But it seems doubtful whether even now the project will be sanctioned, and if sanctioned it should be, the chief reason will be that a fresh terror, due to novel forms of warfare, has in the interval begun to prey upon our minds. Fear vetoed the scheme then; it is just conceivable that a rival fear may advocate it now. A Europe in which such alarms may be seriously entertained by great masses of educated and civilised men is a continent dominated by the nightmare of war, a society in which nation no more trusts nation than man trusts man under a lawless oriental despotism. The refusal to construct a tunnel betrayed our knowledge that we live in an epoch of militarism. . . 
Henry Noel Brailsford, The War of Steel and Gold: A Study of the Armed Peace, published May 1914

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Great War and Modern Memory — Reviewed by David Beer

The Great War and Modern Memory
by Paul Fussell, with a new introduction by Jay Winter
Oxford University Press, 2013

Reading The Great War and Modern Memory again recently was like running into a dear and respected old friend after a hiatus of several years. That Oxford University Press would issue a new printing of this 1975 classic in 2013, now with an introduction by Jay Winter, was a further reminder to me that the book is a seminal landmark in Great War studies for many scholars and readers. (An illustrated edition was published by Sterling in 2009.) It's no surprise that the original book won the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award and was named one of the 20th century's 100 Best Non-Fiction Books by the Modern Library.

The new introduction by Jay Winter, himself a noted writer and scholar in the field, adds to our appreciation of what Paul Fussell achieved in this publication almost 40 years ago and the influence it has had on so many since then. Winter not only refers to the work as a great book twice in his short introduction, but also states that through his work Fussell did much to create the field in which Winter himself has become a noted scholar. It would be hard nowadays to find any book on the literature and memory of the Great War and its cultural history that doesn't cite Fussell's work in one way or another.

Professor Fussell's Service in World War II Had a Great Influence on All of His Military Writings

Paul Fussell died in May 2012 after writing over 20 books as a curmudgeonly college professor of cultural history and literature. As a young man he had seen his share of combat and bloodshed in the Second World War and bore the wounds to prove it. In The Great War and Modern Memory he looked at our view of WWI as received from those participants who wrote about the war and who were so often steeped in the annals of English literature. Many of these writers were not only part of a literary tradition but also established one that future authors, especially war authors, would draw heavily on.

Thus we meet in the book most of the best-known poets and memoirists of the war, such as Owen, Sassoon, Sorley, David Jones, Blunden, Graves, and others. Fussell places them in the tradition of poets such as Thomas Hardy, Wordsworth, Yeats, Thoreau, and Arnold. He also shows how the attitudes and rhetoric of the war authors are echoed in the more recent writing of authors such as Thomas Pynchon, Anthony Powell, Norman Mailer, and Joseph Heller. Catch-22 and Gravity's Rainbow are frequently cited. The latter's more graphic scenes are tellingly shown by Fussell at the end of his book as symbolising the overall filth, insanity, and obscenity of war.

For Fussell, war is searingly ironic, and none is more ironic than the Great War. Situational irony occurs when our actions have an effect totally opposite from what we had hoped for or intended. It's easy to recognize irony in the image of cheerful, healthy young soldiers marching proudly from their towns and villages to images of torn bodies bleeding and drowning in mud. The Great War and Modern Memory is centered on this kind of irony and how it played out in both the actions of the war and the literature that came from the war.

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There's no doubt that this book is a literary one and of primary significance to those interested in both literature—especially British literature—and the matter of the Great War. It was a war in which "an astonishing number took literature seriously," as Fussell points out, and thus his book is "about the British experience on the Western Front from 1914 to 1918 and some of the literary means by which it has been remembered, conventionalized, and mythologized". (p. xv) It has certainly stood the test of time well and has had considerable impact throughout the years. Randall Stevenson, for example, in his recent Literature and the Great War (Oxford, 2013) refers to Fussell frequently, as do many others writers on the Great War.

The book has its critics, too. Many have faulted Fussell with being too British-centric, or of making connections between works of literature which are far-fetched or overstated. A good example of such criticism can be found in David Reynolds's excellent The Long Shadow: The Legacies of the Great War in the Twentieth Century (Norton, 2014). While admitting that Fussell's book has had great influence and has sold over 100,000 copies, Reynolds takes Fussell to task on a number of issues throughout The Long Shadow and is by no means alone in his fault-finding.

Few books are without their critics, of course, as well it should be. In defense of a cherished old friend, however, it seems to me that much of the criticism of the book emanates from blaming Fussell for doing what he clearly stated he was going to do in The Great War and Modern Memory. And though I'm not a noted scholar, I can enthusiastically agree with Jay Winter that this is a great book.

David Beer

Monday, May 26, 2014

We Are Making a New World

I found this interesting comment on Paul Nash's famous battlefield painting at the website of the American Historical Association.

In 1918, the English landscape painter and combat veteran Paul Nash unveiled a canvas depicting a pale sun rising above the lifeless and cratered landscape of the Western Front. The title of this work, “We Are Making a New World”, took a clear shot at the rhetoric that had been used to rally support for the war, but it also conveyed a more resonant message: the industrial capacity and technological expertise that had been organized and unleashed by the Great War heralded the advent of an age in which human beings might acquire the power to transform nature completely. The dream of transforming nature through science and technology had been an element in Western thought since at least the time of Francis Bacon, but now, for good or ill, that dream had the potential to become a reality. 

Richard Samuel Deese, Boston University

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Second Act: The Potemkin in the First World War

Everyone has heard of the famous mutiny in 1905 aboard the Russian battleship Potemkin (or, more properly, Kniaz Potemkin Tavricheskii). Less well known is the fact that, after the ship returned to the Russian Navy, she was renamed Panteleimon (after an early Christian saint) and served throughout the First World War in the Black Sea Fleet.

During the war she earned the unusual distinction of being one of the few pre-dreadnought battleships ever to score a hit on a dreadnought in battle. On 10 May 1915, while the Russian fleet was bombarding the Turkish fortifications at the Bosphorus, the Panteleimon hit the German-built battlecruiser Goeben with two 12-inch shells. This was enough to convince the battlecruiser to break off the action.

Thanks to author Steve McLaughlin for these details.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Austria-Hungary Wanted to Invade Serbia — In 1913!

The ex-premier of Italy, Signor Giolitti, in a speech delivered in the Chamber of Deputies on 5 December 1914, revealed the fact that in 1913 Austria-Hungary had planned to attack Serbia. He said that on 9 August 1913 he had received the following telegram from Foreign Minister Marquis di San Giuliano:

Austria has communicated to us and to Germany her intention of taking action against Serbia, and defines such action is defensive, hoping to bring into operation the casus foederis of the Triple Alliance.

The Empire's Most Tireless Advocate of a Punitive War Against Serbia

He replied:

If Austria intervenes against Serbia, it is clear that a casus foederis cannot be established. It is a step which she is taking on her own account, since there is no question of defense, inasmuch as no one is thinking of attacking her.

The fact that the Treaty of Bucharest (the settlement of the Second Balkan War, which gave Serbia a massive increase in territory and population) was signed on the day following Giolitti's receipt of the telegram reveals Austria's motive as a desire to prevent Serbia from profiting by the conclusion of a highly advantageous treaty.

The telegram indicates that the assassination of the Archduke was the occasion rather than the cause of Austria's ultimatum to Serbia, and it reveals the reason for Austria's action in July 1914 in omitting to notify Italy in advance of her demands upon Serbia.

The authenticity of the telegram is established by the fact that the Austrian government has not denied it. Its contents are brought into relief by the statements of M. Pichon, ex-minister of foreign affairs of France. The Paris correspondent of Il Giornale d'Italia reported (29 December 1914) a conversation which he had with M. Pichon on the subject of Giolitti's disclosure. M. Pichon said that in June 1913, when he was minister of foreign affairs, at the time of the affair of Scutari, the Italian Government informed him that Austria had notified it of her intentions with regard to Serbia, and that the Italian government had replied that the casus foederis was not applicable.

Source: Anderson, Frank Maloy and Amos Shartle Hershey, Handbook for the Diplomatic History of Europe, Asia, and Africa 1870–1914. Prepared for the National Board for Historical Service. Government Printing Office, Washington, 1918.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Western Front Virtual Tour — Stop 20: Pals Battalions Memorials at Serre

During the Great War there were 404 service battalions and 153 reserve battalions formed in the New Army. Fifty-nine of these battalions are considered "Pals". To be included as one of these the unit should meet these criteria: (1) be affinity-based, at least at the time of formation, (2) be formed within the New Army, and (3) not continue in existence after 1919. As will be explained, there were units that met some but not all of these points. Many had their baptism of fire on 1 July 1916 and a number suffered heavy casualties. For instance, the Accrington Pals that attacked at Serre lost 584 were killed, wounded or missing of 720 men, who went over the top that day.

Thanks to regular contributor Jim Patton for these details.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Remembering a Veteran: Lieutenant Carl Hans Lody, German Naval Reserve — Spy

Carl Hans Lody (1877–1914) was a German naval officer and the first foreign spy to be executed in Britain for espionage during the First World War. Many of the men recruited by the Germans for intelligence operations were untrained and inept amateurs. Witness the case of Glossary, Carl Hans Lody, the first wartime German spy to be executed in Britain, in November 1914. Viewed even by his captors as a decent and patriotic man, Lody left a trail of clues from his intelligence-gathering operations in Britain during August and September and was arrested in Ireland on 2 October. Most of the information that he sent to his superiors — such as the telegram on 4 September describing how Russian troops had apparently been seen marching from Aberdeen to the south of England — was useless.

Lody admitted in court that he had been a spy and had been sent to Britain by his superiors in Berlin. He refused to name Fritz Prieger, the person who had recruited him: "that name I cannot say as I have given my word of honour".

Unlike spies captured later, Lody was tried in public and the case was widely reported in the press. His declarations of patriotism and honor attracted widespread admiration in both Britain and Germany. When he was convicted and taken to the Tower of London to be executed he was reported to have said to the officer who escorted him from his cell to the execution ground: "I suppose that you will not care to shake hands with a German spy". "No," the officer replied, "but I will shake hands with a brave man."

Lody was shot at the Tower of London on 6 November 1914.

Sources: British National Archives and MI-5 Website

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

U.S. Warships Lost to Enemy Action

Only two American warships were lost to enemy fire in the Great War:

Destroyer DD-61 Jacob Jones, sunk by German submarine U-53 off the Isles of Scilly, 6 Dec 1917. Jacob Jones went down in eight minutes, taking 64 men with her and was the first U.S. destroyer ever to be lost to enemy action. (article)

Armored Cruiser AC- 6 San Diego, formerly Pennsylvania, sunk by German U-156 off U.S. east coast 19 July 1918 with six killed. (article)

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Please See Our Corrected Post for 19 May 2014


Yesterday our fact checking process had a serious breakdown in our article introducing our series of reviews of books on Conscientious Objectors.  I hope you will read the revised article below, I just hate the idea that we might be spreading misinformation on the Internet.  MH

We Will Not Fight: The Untold Story of the First World War's Conscientious Objectors — Reviewed by Jane Mattisson Ekstam

We Will Not Fight: The Untold Story of the First World War's Conscientious Objectors
by Will Ellsworth-Jones
Aurum, 2008

We Will Not Fight is the poignant story of 35 British conscientious objectors who were shipped to France by the British Army because they refused to fight. Who were these men? Why did they refuse to fight? And how were they viewed by their contemporaries? These questions form the basis of Ellsworth-Jones's thoughtful and compelling study.

COs in a Work Camp

Prompted by a newspaper article on the 35 conscientious objectors that appeared in the Daily Telegraph in May 1999, Will Ellsworth-Jones explores the motives and beliefs of conscientious objectors faced with the introduction of conscription by the Military Service Act on 27 January 1916. The heavy losses in the first two years of the war and the activities of the White Feather Brigade increased the pressure on conscientious objectors, who were regarded as both disloyal and cowardly. Ellsworth-Jones corrects this view by providing the background to the men's defiance and describing the horrendous conditions under which they were incarcerated. Theirs is a story of courage based on religious belief and unbending conviction. With the aid of diaries and letters, We Will Not Fight re-creates the personal story of British conscientious objection from 1916 to the end of the war.

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The focus is primarily on Bert Brocklesbury, a newly qualified school teacher. When asked by the Non Combatant Corps (an alternative to bearing weapons) if he had ever made any sacrifices for his opinions, Bert answered that he had worked for 18 years to help missionary enterprise. He realized that his interlocutors would neither understand nor accept his views or principles. Incarcerated first at Pontefract Barracks and subsequently at Richmond Castle before being sent to France, Bert was interrogated by a captain. Part of the interview, which clearly states Bert's position, is recorded in We Will Not Fight

"Why are you a conscientious objector?"

"Do you not think that those commands apply to individuals but not to the state?"

"They apply to both."

"Are you a Christian?"

'There are thousands of Christians in the war.'
'It's not my idea of being a Christian.'

For the remainder of the war, they were held prisoner in England. Bert Brocklesbury was fortunate in that he was one of the few who had the support of his family. His fiancée, however, broke off their engagement. After the war, Bert found it difficult to find a teaching job after having refused to fight. Turning to a missionary career instead, he found not only peace but also his future wife.

Memorials to COs at Tavistock Gardens, London

Bert's story is set in the context of recruitment policies in Britain and the general public disdain for conscientious objection, not least among women. Supplemented by photographs of the Brocklesbury family, Bert's brothers in uniform, groups of conscientious objectors doing hard labor, prison cells and newspaper clippings about conscientious objection, We Will Not Fight is both an historical and a personal story about one of the least understood features of World War One. It is also, as Ellsworth-Jones reminds us, a story that continues to reverberate to this day.

Jane Mattisson Ekstam

Monday, May 19, 2014

Thou Shalt Not Kill: Conscientious Objectors in World War One
Series Introduction by Jane Mattisson Ekstam

Corrected Text, 20 May 2014

[Editor's Note:  Regular reviewer Jane Mattisson Ekstam will be examining works on the topics of pacifisim and conscientious objectors in her next several pieces. To start the series, she will provide some background on these general topics here on the eve of her first review.]

Conscientious objectors, or "conchies" as they were sometimes called, took the Lord's commandments at face value. At a time when so many answered Lord Kitchener’s exhortation "Your Country Needs You," many asked themselves, "Who were the pacifists, and why were they held in prison and threatened with execution?" In total, there were approximately 16,300 British conscientious objectors in World War One, of whom 6000 served varying sentences in prison. Thirteen hundred of the 6000, labeled "absolutists", refused to compromise with the state in any shape or form.

A Tribunal for British Conscientious Objectors 

As war fever hit the streets in 1914, conscientious objection was regarded as both unpatriotic and cowardly. While many conscientious objectors served as non-combatants in the trenches and were prepared to die, they were unarmed and refused to handle munitions; as a result, they risked being shackled to the wheels of a gun carriage or hung on barbed wire. According to author Adam Hothschild, almost 50 conscientious objectors were shipped to France for possible execution for refusing to fight. Hothschild does not claim, however, that they were executed.  [The original version of this article suggested that the 50 men were executed.  We apologize for publishing this error. MH] And in 1916, just before the Battle of the Somme, a group of war opponents at a British camp nearby refused to bear arms. Threatened with the death sentence, they stood their ground. It was only thanks to last-minute lobbying in London that their lives were spared. Few at the time understood what it meant to be a conscientious objector.

Conscientious objection existed not only in Great Britain but also in Germany and America. At the beginning of the war, for example, a handful of German parliamentarians opposed war credits. Radicals like Rosa Luxembourg and Karl Liebknecht later went to prison, as did the American socialist leader Eugene V. Debs. Conscientious objection was international and was here to stay. Indeed, as Will Ellsworth-Jones has noted, "the battle over conscience fought between 1914 and 1918 laid the groundwork for the treatment of the conscientious objector both in the Second World War and in the wars that have followed in Vietnam and Iraq." (We Will Not Fight. The Untold Story of the First World War’s Conscientious Objectors. Aurum, 2008).

COs Sentence to Work in a Quarry near Dartmoor Prison

While historians have tended to focus on combatants, histories of the conscientious objectors are relatively rare. A few historians, like Felicity Goodall, are trying to correct the balance, arguing:

To stand against the tide of public opinion armed only with your beliefs; to be divided from friends, family and even spouses by those beliefs; to be isolated from the defining experience of your generation. Few people have the courage not to follow the common herd. (We Will Not Go to War. Conscientious Objection During the World Wars.  The History Press, 2010)

The story of the conscientious objector is a noble one. It involves people, events, and moral testing grounds that are, as Adam Hochschild argues, "more revealing than any but the greatest of novelists could invent." (To End All Wars. A Story of Protest and Patriots in the First World War.  Macmillan, 2011)

I will review all three books cited here for Roads in the coming months, along with one novel, Edward Marston’s Instrument of Slaughter (2012), a riveting tale about a group of conscientious objectors in London in 1916. My series of reviews begins tomorrow with Will Ellsworth-Jones’s We Will Not Fight: The Untold Story of the First World War’s Conscientious Objectors

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Imperial Japanese Navy and the Allies in the Great War

From Timothy D. Saxton

Japan rendered vital, worldwide naval support to Great Britain during the First World War, culminating in the service of Japan's first and only Mediterranean squadron. This long-forgotten Japanese flotilla fought alongside Allied warships throughout the most critical period of the struggle against German and Austro-Hungarian U-boats in 1917 and 1918. 

Admiral Sato Kozo (seated, center) Commanded a Flotilla of
14 Destroyers Based in Malta

Japanese cooperation is all the more surprising given that both British and American historians have characterized Japan's role in the First World War as that of a "jackal state," one that took a lion's share of the kill after only minimally assisting the cause.[ 2] The record tells a different story. Japan in fact stretched its naval resources to the limit during the First World War. Japanese naval assistance in the Mediterranean Sea in 1917 boosted the strength of Allied naval escorts during the darkest days of the war. Beyond the Mediterranean, an argument can be made that without Japanese assistance Great Britain would have lost control of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. That would have isolated the British Empire's two dominions in the Far East, Australia and New Zealand, from the campaigns in Europe and the Middle East. Other British colonies, from Aden and India to Singapore and Hong Kong, would have been exposed. Despite this help, Japan, at best a mistrusted and suspect ally of Great Britain in 1914, emerged from the conflict feared and despised by its "friends."

How did the Imperial Japanese Navy cooperate with the Royal Navy during the First World War? Although the Anglo-Japanese alliance of 1902 did not require it, Japan declared it would support Britain in the war against Germany and sent an ultimatum to Berlin demanding withdrawal of German warships from Japanese and Chinese waters. Japan helped establish control of the Pacific and Indian Oceans early in the war by seizing the German fortress and naval base of Tsingtao and Germany's colonies in the Pacific (the Carolines, Marshalls, and most of the Mariana Islands); Japanese naval forces also aided Great Britain in driving German warships from the Pacific. At the outbreak of the war, Vice Admiral Maximilian Graf von Spee commanded six cruisers of the German Far Eastern Squadron at Ponape in the Carolines; the Japanese declaration of war compelled him to lead most of his force east to South America and the battles of Coronel and the Falklands.

Destroyer Momo Served with the Mediterranean Deployment

The Japanese Navy maintained Allied control of Far Eastern and Indian waters throughout the war, assuming responsibility for patrolling them when demands on British naval forces exceeded resources, and in 1917 freeing American naval forces for service in Europe. Japanese forces provided escorts for convoying troops and war materials to the European theater of operations from the British dominions in the Far East. Japan built warships for Allied nations and sold merchant shipping to the Allies during the war when their shipyards, already working at maximum effort, could not meet such needs. Finally, Japan rendered direct naval assistance in the Mediterranean Sea in 1917 and 1918 when the Allied navies faced the prospect of abandoning that sea in the face of the Central Powers' increasingly successful submarine operations.

Despite the cooperative manner in which the Japanese extended their wartime responsibilities, American resentment of dependence upon the Japanese throughout the war and of Japanese gains in Micronesia closely paralleled that seen in British quarters.[ 69] The Japanese returned this antagonism after 1917, when the view took root among naval officers that differences between the two powers were irreconcilable short of war. Japanese expansion into Siberia in 1918, seen by some Japanese as preempting American containment on all sides, was to add to the antipathy between the two nations. By 1917, even while acting as an ally, the Japanese Navy had officially designated the United States its "most likely enemy" in any future conflict.

The apparent hostility toward Japan after the war, despite its service, led an increasing number of Japanese military officers to believe in an American and British conspiracy against Japan, founded on racial animosity.

Destroyer Sakaki Rescued 1,800 British Soldiers When the Troopship Transylvania Was Sunk. Later She Had 68 Crewmen Killed When It Barely Survived a Torpedo from U-27 

The severing of the Anglo-Japanese alliance, in fact, steered Japan toward cooperation with Germany. The arrival of the seized German submarines began a new, long-term relationship between the Japanese and German navies. German influence and technology quickly supplanted those of the British. The two services began to exchange personnel. Numerous Japanese officers received training in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s, facilitating the Imperial Japanese Navy's ultimate break with its British mentors.

The British had their empire, and the Americans felt no shame in professing their "Manifest Destiny," but both attacked Japanese imperial ambitions as excessive. After 1918, neither nation proved willing to maintain the close naval cooperation with Japan that had benefited all parties during the First World War. So it was that despite the strong record of Japanese assistance to Great Britain during that conflict, the true legacy of that cooperation proved to be alienation. Thus began the breach between East and West that led to the Japanese attack upon British (and American) possessions in the Far East as part of a true two-ocean conflict, just 23 years after Japan, Great Britain, and the United States had been allies in the "war to end all 

Source:  Saxon, Timothy D., "Anglo-Japanese Naval Cooperation, 1914-1918"

Read the full article at:

Friday, May 16, 2014

Western Front Virtual Tour — Stop 19: Cantigny

I want to thank our regular readers for the suggestions we have received on our Virtual Tour.  In the future we will be having fewer slides, but with more information on the featured site. Today we are moving into the Somme sector, where we will be stopping at various sites from both 1916 and 1918.

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Quick Facts

Where:    The Somme Sector, North of Paris

When:     May 28 - 30, 1918

AEF Units Participating:    1st Division

US Commander:     Major General Robert L. Bullard

Opposing Forces:    German 82nd Reserve Division      

Memorable For:      First US Offensive and Victory.

How It Looked To A Doughboy

Into the village of Cantigny we go. There remained nothing but ruins. We passed on through to the other side of the village. Here we encountered barbed wire entanglements but it was our good fortune to get through these without any mishap. But once across I notice that the boys are falling down fast. A shell burst about ten yards in front of me and the dirt from the explosion knocked me flat on my back. I got up again but could not see further than one hundred feet.

I heard someone yell "lay down." I knelt on one knee and wondered what would come next...We laid down and started to shoot and it was our good fortune that the second wave reached the place at this time. About twenty Dutchmen came out of the holes, threw down their rifles and stood with their hands up. The doughboys didn't pay any attention to this but started in to butcher and shoot them. One of the doughboys on the run stabbed a Dutchman and his bayonet went clear through him...

The German artillery was in action all the time...I stopped at a strong point and asked the boy in the trench if there was room for me to get in. "Don't ask for room, but get in before you get your [!#%&] shot off," a doughboy said...

We stayed there all that night and the next day, being relieved at two o'clock the following morning, taking position in the first line of reserve trenches. We ate a cooked dinner at eleven o'clock, that being the first meal we've had in three days.

Sgt. Boleslaw Suchocki, 28th Infantry, 1st Division
Unpublished Manuscript

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Combat as Imagined in U.S. Recruiting Posters (First Anniversary Posting)

Our First Anniversary Posting

Celebrating 365 Consecutive Days of Presenting at Least One New Article to Our Loyal Readers

Last Sunday, I spent a couple of hours looking over the Library of Congress collection of American posters from World War I. I was struck by the standardized motif in recruiting posters for showing the type of combat the new soldier could expect when he got to France. Naturally such posters wouldn't want to be too realistic, but the uniformity of the depictions is what struck me:  mass, densely packed charges behind waving flags with no incoming fire from the enemy — an irresistible, and, apparently, unopposed force. One poor German soldier showed up (2nd image from bottom), but he appears to be totally defenseless, a lamb awaiting his slaughter. Note also that the top and bottom are the same composition, but in two-tone and full-color versions.

Only one poster in the collection really captured the essential bottom line of combat. It was produced for fund raising rather than for recruiting men to the ranks. Here it is without comment.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

14 May 1917: Secretary of War Baker Announces General John J. Pershing Will Command the American Expeditionary Forces

On the Last Day of Marshal Joffre's visit to Washington, Secretary of War Baker introduced him to Major General John J. Pershing, the recent commander of the Punitive Expedition in Mexico. Baker and Wilson, having agreed to send a small force to France immediately, had selected Pershing to head it. As the Secretary sketched a rundown of Pershing's distinguished career, Joffre caught the names New Mexico, Dakota, Cuba, and the Mexican frontier.  Commenting that Pershing was a "fine-looking soldier," the elderly Frenchman predicted that Pershing would soon be commanding millions of men. ''Please tell him," Joffre said, "that he can always count on me for anything in my power." 

In making this introduction, Baker did not convey the amount of soul-searching that had gone into the selection. It was one of the most important decisions that Baker and President Wilson would ever make, as the officer selected would have to be capable of carrying tremendous responsibility on his own. Secretary Baker could not look over the shoulder of the man sent to command in Europe.

Pershing had not always been Baker's first choice. In early 1917 the most prestigious field officer in the United States Army was Major General Frederick Funston, commanding the Southern Department at San Antonio, Texas. A Medal of Honor recipient and seventeen years a general officer, Funston was expected to lead any force the United States would put into the field. 

It was not to be. The command picture changed drastically during the evening of February 19, 1917. Army duty officers Brigadier General Peyton March and Major Douglas MacArthur received a message disclosing that General Funston had died of a massive heart attack that evening while dining out at a local hotel in San Antonio. MacArthur, the junior of the pair, was detailed to deliver the message to Secretary of War Baker who was with the President at a dinner party.

Wilson and Baker, though somewhat shaken, took the news in stride. As MacArthur waited for instructions, they beckoned for him to follow as they went into an adjacent room. First the President dictated a message of sympathy to Mrs. Funston. Then turning to Baker, he asked, ''What now, Newton, who will take the Army over?'' Baker, perhaps stalling for time, turned to MacArthur, "Whom do you think the Army would choose, Major?" 

''I cannot, of course, speak for the Army, but for myself the choice would unquestionably be General Pershing."

From John Eisenhower's Yanks

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Wounded: A New History of the Western Front in World War I — Reviewed by James Thomas

Wounded: A New History of the Western Front in World War I
By Emily Mayhew
Oxford University Press, 2014

In Wounded, Emily Mayhew crafts a remarkable glimpse into one of the most important but less examined aspects of the Great War. All who study the war know of the horrors, the numbers, the wastefulness and the mud. The massive slaughter in No Man's Land and the hell-scape that was once beautiful French countryside are images that instantly come to mind when the war is considered. Descriptions of battles like the Somme, Verdun or Ypres include the hundreds of thousands of casualties, men killed or wounded. Generally, after describing the battles and giving those statistics to show once again the enormity of the war, the story moves on to the next battle and its horrific statistics. But what happened to the men who were those wounded casualties? How did they leave the battlefields? Where did they go and what sort of treatment did they receive? Who were the men who carried them, doctored them and fought their own war against the enemy of all soldiers, death? These are the questions Mayhew answers in her outstanding new book.

Order Now

Dr. Mayhew uses primary source material to weave together the story of treatment of the wounded in World War I. Finding letters, diaries and reports from stretcher bearers, orderlies, nurses, doctors and even the wounded themselves she traces the movement and care of casualties. From the moment of their injuries soldiers suffered the trauma and pain of their wounds, the loss of comrades and the fear of what would happen to them next. As battles raged, countless wounded men, often crowded in shell-holes, cried out for help. Their numbers were staggering and their wounds ghastly. Then, trudging through the mud and detritus of the fight, the first stage of their rescue arrived in the form of bearers to give first aid and then struggle to carry them back to aid stations where orderlies would take over. Stretcher bearers faced the same shell-fire and snipers as the combat infantry and died in great numbers as well. Hospitals were shelled and there was never anywhere really safe. In fact, as Mayhew shows, no one was immune to the violence of the battlefield. Peace, it seems, was only found by the men in the Moribund Wards whose lives slipped away without further attempts to do anything but let them go as quietly and gently as possible.

One of the book's greatest assets is the author's ability to make the reader feel individual loss. She uses so many memoirs and firsthand accounts that windows are constantly opened into the lives of her characters, and moving through the book the reader never knows if the person whose story is being told survived the war or not. Too often one feels affection and admiration for bearers, orderlies, doctors, and chaplains only to have them die the sudden tragic death that so exemplifies the Great War.

Mayhew's turn of phrase, whether her own or the words of her sources and nicely melded into her prose, add to the feeling of "being there." Wounded men with faces "white from too much fear and too little blood," fill a field hospital. Hopelessness and despair sometimes softened by chaplain's words (few of whom actually had the time for actual services) or a nurse's gentle kindness meld the story together to bring reality to a war now drifting a hundred years into the past. 

In 1980 there was a television special on BBC1 which included an elderly Great War veteran describing the lifelong lingering effects of the injuries he sustained in 1917. Requiring regular medical treatments the rest of his entire life showed clearly the war had not ended for him on 11 November 1918. Mayhew's last character, a nurse, recognized this would be the case for her and so many others even as the war was ending around her; the war would never really be over.

As all of the commemoration events unfold this year around the world, if there is any need to be reminded of the pain and loss the war's statistics represent, turn to Emily Mayhew's Wounded, and indeed the war will never be forgotten.

James Thomas

Monday, May 12, 2014

World War I Laffs

Compiled from his students' writings over the years by University of California at Santa Barbara history professor Alfred Lindemann. His supplementary comments are in parentheses.

World War I turned many into passivists. [They just stayed in their trenches and played cards.]

When war reached the Italian boarders, the Italian socialists revealed their true position. [The sanctity of the pensione was being violated!]

Lenin won over the populus with the call for Peace, land, and fruit! [To be more precise, Peace, land, and cantaloupes.]

By reading the diaries of the soldiers at the front, it made me more able to emphasize with them. [One, two, three, column left!]

President Wilson arrived in Paris with fourteen pointers. [There was such a scene when they met up with the Alsatians and Dalmatians.]

After Lenin's death, Stalin spread his testacles over Russia. [And I thought Rasputin had kinky tastes!]

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Those "Other" U.S. Marines in the First World War

Almost all sources that discuss the contribution of the U.S. Marine Corps to the victory in World War I focus on the service of the Marine Brigade attached to the Army's 2nd Division. This is not without good reason — the 2nd Division might have seen more action that any other unit in France — but it is not the whole story.

Marine Honor Guard – AEF General Headquarters, Chaumont

The 5th Marine Brigade, organized at Quantico in September of 1918 and consisting of the 11th and 13th Regiments and the 5th Machine Gun Battalion, also served in France but did not engage in combat. The 13th Regiment arrived at Brest, France, on 25 September 1918; all units of the 11th Regiment were in France by 25 October, and the 5th Machine Gun Battalion arrived at Brest on 9 November.

Upon arrival in France, the 5th Marine Brigade was assigned to the Service of Supply, which was in need of dependable troops for guard duty. The 13th Regiment soon found itself scattered, and doing guard duty along with the western coast of France, while the 11th Regiment was stationed in the general area of Tours. There it performed similar duties, such as guarding the aviation training center at Issoudun, and furnishing some companies for military police duty. The brigade machine gun battalion was stationed at Camp Pontanezan, Brest. That base was commanded by double Medal of Honor recipient, General Smedley Butler. The units of the 5th Marine Brigade continued to perform these general duties until July 1919, when they assembled at Brest and returned to the United States early in August.

Although the battle record of the 4th Marine Brigade, as part of the 2nd Division, overshadowed all other activities of Marine Corps personnel in Europe during World War I, officers and men of the Marine Corps participated in the conflict in other ways. Marine detachments served on all battleships and cruisers operating in the European theater. In addition, from early August 1918 to the date of demobilization, the commanding general of the 2nd Division and several officers on his staff were Marines. At various times Marine officers were attached to the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th, 26th, 32nd, 35th, 90th, and 92nd Divisions and in some cases engaged in operations with them.

Marine Aviators of the Northern Bombing Group

Marine aviation personnel also served in France as the Day Wing of the Northern Bombing Group of the Navy. The Day Wing carried out 14 independent raids far behind the enemy lines, and brought back valuable information. A few Marine officers and enlisted men engaged in Army aviation operations, and about 20 Marine officers were sent to France as observers and participated in operations with American, French, and British forces. While in Europe, the Marine fliers served with Squadrons 213 (pursuit squadron), 217, and 218 (bombing squadrons), the Royal Air Force, and with pursuit, observation, and bombing squadrons of the French Flying Corps. In World War I a total of 282 officers and 2,180 enlisted men served in Marine aviation. Of these, about one-half got overseas.

In addition, more than 40,000 Marines served during 1917—1919 without going to France. After their 1914 landing at Veracruz, Marines remained on duty protecting the U.S. border with Mexico and aboard 62 warships. The peak strength of the Corps worldwide was 75,000. By 1920 the total Marines on duty had been reduced to 17,000.

Source:  Marine Corps History Division,  Marine Corps University; U.S. Marine Museum, Quantico

Friday, May 9, 2014

Western Front Virtual Tour — Stop 18: Artois

French Flanders and Artois first saw action during the 1914 "Race to the Sea".  In 1915 both British and French forces fought intense battles here, although the sector is best remembered for the 1917 capture of Vimy Ridge by the Canadian Corps.

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Next Week: Arras and Vicinity