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

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Imperial Germany's "Iron Regiment" of the First World War
Reviewed by Michael Kihntopf

Imperial Germany's "Iron Regiment" of the First World War
By John K. Rieth
Badgley Publishing Company, 2014

German Depiction of Fighting at the Somme
In the past few years there have been numerous books that deal with the German view of World War I. These works have given historians a better rounded knowledge of the Great War. Rieth's book stands head and shoulders above previously published unit histories and should not be ignored for its substantial value in providing the whole picture of many of the war's landmark battles.

John Rieth is a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who brings his considerable experience in military matters to bear in this work. Prior to this work, he authored Patton's Forward Observers, The History of the 7th Field Artillery Observation Battalion. However, this book is a personal endeavor in that it is based on the war observations of his grandfather, who served in the 169 Infantry Regiment from 1914–1915. To that record, Rieth has expertly added excerpts from Otto Lais's book A Machine-gunner in the Iron Regiment (8th Baden Infantry Regiment #169)A, plus the Commemorative Publication for the 1st Regimental Day of the Former 8th Infantry Regiment #169 on 30 and 31 August 1924. The current book is the result of the blending of the three, plus smatterings from other primary sources, and is a treat to read. With a few exceptions, there are no boring, humdrum details that many of us have had to endure in unit histories.

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Rieth begins with the ancestry of the regiment into which his grandfather was conscripted in 1912 when he was 20 years old. The army had formed the 169 IR during a corps reorganization in 1897, but its roots ran back to battalions that fought in the Napoleonic Wars. Initially it had a nickname of Handwerksburschen (Handworkers) Regiment because most of its soldiers came from the parts of the Grand Duchy of Baden that were known for making jewelry and watches.

Rieth's grandfather's observations provide a very interesting picture of pre-war life in the regiment and also of his reaction to mobilization in August 1914. Thereafter the author, quoting from his grandfather, gives a detailed description of the first real battle of the Great War, Mulhouse, fought on 9 August 1914. Ever after that the regiment was in the forefront of nearly every notable battle on the Western Front. In 1915 it's at Artois and in the Champagne region. In 1916 it's on the Somme and at Serre. There the name of Handwerksburschen was changed to Iron Regiment in tribute to its stand at Serre. In 1917, it's back in Champagne and its 1918 assignments culminate with the Meuse-Argonne offensive facing the Americans.

Anyone who has studied these battles from the English and American perspectives will readily appreciate how Rieth completes the picture of the overall battle. Drawing from Lais's work and the regimental history, he gives the reader a real feel for the preliminary bombardment the 169 IR endured before the first day of battle on the Somme. He also shows how material conditions, but not attitudes, deteriorated after August 1918 when over 1500 men of the division that the regiment was part of were captured. Interestingly enough, this book does not take a pessimistic view of the war except to editorialize on some of the battle orders the regiment was required to carry out. It is a highly personal view of fighting and clearly shows that winning the war to preserve Germany was the regiment's objective.

Don't miss this book. The portion on Mulhouse is a gem, and the description of opposing the Americans' Meuse-Argonne offensive is priceless.

Michael Kihntopf

Image from Tony Langley's Collection

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum: A NATIONAL World War I Memorial

Contributed by Courtland Jindra

After World War One, communities large and small throughout the USA struggled with how best to remember their fallen.  Large memorials built by the federal government were very uncommon back then, so local and state leaders took up the slack. Debates raged between those who sought statues or monuments and others who favored “living memorials".

Armistice Day 1918 in Los Angeles

Los Angeles faced much the same quandary. Over twenty three thousand Angelenos had served in the armed forces and within weeks after the Armistice, discussions on how best to honor the troops had become heated.  Eventually, like many municipalities, it opted for both types of memorial.  Early on Exposition Park was chosen as a prime location for what would become southern California's grandest.  Initial thoughts for a living memorial there had been vague. The Los Angeles Times advocated a hospital in an early editorial, but despite some initial interest by stakeholders, that was quickly dropped. Other proposals in the Times included a library with a adjoining museum, a music hall, to building/renaming scores of city streets (the most unusual suggestion was making a lot of sidewalks in the city memorials with readable text every block or so).
Many memorials were completed, but the major city project ended up coming down to two finalists. A grand obelisk was proposed for Pershing Square (which was a long time park renamed for the General just a week after the Armistice). This was really a stunning suggestion complete with two base levels on which statues of eight allied commanders would stand. Four 20-foot tall tablets containing the names of all United States war dead were to surround the sides. The structure would have had a viewing platform at the top with a bronze statue of a woman above that, signifying "Victory" (she also would have had a spotlight on her at night). From the top of "Victory" to the bottom of the base level, the memorial would have stood 250 feet over the city (becoming the tallest structure in LA at the time). It was a remarkable set of ideas that this summary can only partially do justice to, and would have contended as the most imposing commemorative structure to the World War built in the US.

The Los Angeles Coliseum Under Construction, 1922

The other finalist was a memorial stadium and amphitheater.  There was no large scale stadium in LA, and the city was already eyeing a bid to host the Olympics. The idea became to marry the two together.  After some debate, the stadium project won approval.  The vast majority of people seemed to think that monuments would be forgotten about, but useful structures would live forever (ironic since many memorial buildings have not lasted).  

The City of Angels was not the only entity to build a stadium as a memorial; several universities did so right after the war (it had become a trendy way to raise money to get new facilities built). Groundbreaking on the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum began in 1921 on what had been an abandoned horse track and within sixteen months the venue was completed. The impressive architecture was modeled on traditional Roman style and a small piece from the Roman Colosseum flanks the entrance with a rock from Olympia, Greece. The University of Southern California (USC) soon began to use the facility becoming the most well known and longest lasting tenant. In fact, though the State of California owns the Coliseum, in recent years USC was awarded a master lease to manage the property until 2111.

Japanese Contingent, Opening Ceremonies, 1932 Olympics
City leaders were no doubt pleased when the new stadium helped convince the International Olympic Committee to award the 1932 Games to Los Angeles. In the years that followed the Coliseum hosted numerous events, athletic and otherwise. Notable among the the list are two Olympics (the only stadium to ever be so honored), two Super Bowls (including the very first), a World Series, appearances by generals, dignitaries, and statesmen such as George Patton, Omar Bradley, Dwight Eisenhower, Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, Pope John Paul II, and Nelson Mandela.

Super Bowl I, 1967
That is not to say the stated purpose of the facility was forgotten. Annual Armistice (later Veterans) and Memorial Day observances began almost immediately and lasted for decades. At the first Armistice Day ceremony in 1923, the LA Times estimated 100,000 people visited the Exposition Park area to pay tribute. Grand parades of several thousand war heroes, from the Civil War onward, used to march from all around with spectators crowding the roadways. On they went, into the stadium where usually 20,000–30,000 more people sat for the memorial programs.

Given the historic and national nature of the venue, on Veterans Day 1968 the stadium was rededicated, not just to those from LA who served, but to all American WWI veterans. This national distinction is special to the Coliseum as it is one of just a handful of memorials that pay tribute to the entirety of U.S. involvement, and the only stadium that I am aware of. All other memorial stadiums honor city, state, or school war veterans/dead (and/or rededicated to honor multiple wars).

In 1972 ceremonies at the Coliseum suddenly stopped appearing in the LA Times archives. My first thought was it was the divisiveness over Vietnam. However, reading the 12 November 1971  story more closely, I was alerted to the fact that that was the year the government changed both holidays from their traditional observances to three-day weekends. Only 200 people showed up on actual Armistice Day in '71, and it seemed like no one was sure if they should be celebrated on the new days or the traditional ones.  Given no future story was found, I think everyone must have just thrown their hands up and given up. Obviously Veterans Day was moved back to 11 November a few years later, but the damage was apparently done. 

1968 National Dedication Plaque

However, this tradition is being reestablished by current management. Just this past November the Coliseum was opened up to all people to come visit on Veterans Day to ruminate on both the history of the facility and the reason it was constructed. Plans are already in the works for the yearly Memorial and Veterans Day tributes to come back. No one can doubt the impressiveness of the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, or the sheer size of the Indiana War Memorial district, but it could be argued that no WWI memorial in the States is better known than the Coliseum. As the plaque that resides in the Court of Honor of the peristyle reads, “May the torch of freedom always burn bright.”

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The U.S. Navy in 1915

Back in my Air Force days we used have a monthly event known alternately as "Commanders Call" or "Officers Call" depending on the invitation list. Whatever the name, a regular feature of these get-togethers was viewing the latest in USAF propaganda (whoops, I mean public relations) films. The message of all such films, of course, is the positive uses for good in the world to which American military power could be put, like, if it really, really had to be put somewhere. The films were very professionally well done, naturally, and you got to see all the newest and coolest hardware in the Air Force inventory in action.

My all-time favorite featured a flight of F-105s with maximum full loads of everything, high-explosive bombs, napalm, and rockets, sent to attack a simulated enemy position on the Nellis AFB range — actually, it was a shack that looked something like the residence of the Unabomber. Anyway, the four planes managed to drop their entire un-guided, un-smart load on the structure as the narrator droned on somewhat pompously about the importance of air power to the nation's security. Meanwhile, on the screen, as the smoke started to clear, it became evident that the shack was still standing. Back in the junior officers' peanut gallery where I was located, we started laughing under the delusion we were watching some classic of military parody. The dirty looks back we received from the colonels up front in the prime seats cleared away our misconceptions rather promptly, however.

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2. Click Full Screen to View

Such films, though, are not a new thing for the American military. Reader David West has brought to our attention a very early (1915) U.S. Navy public relations film. So far there been only 11 minutes of a two-hour film restored, but this piece has some gems. Included in the segment are early E-class submarines (they run a lot faster on the surface than you would guess), an unidentified dreadnought (a "Fortress of the Sea") with 14-inch main batteries, a resupply exercise that looks like something out of Victory at Sea, and sailors doing interesting nautical stuff with ropes (no kidding, it's really interesting.)

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Soldiers' Lyrics for Popular Songs

Surely readers of Roads to the Great War are familiar with the risque optional lyrics to "Mademoiselle from Armentieres".  Not all the such treatments, though, were of the naughty character.  Here, one veteran — a chaplain — remembers that love ballads received similar adjustments.

The Tommies came out of England singing "Tipperary," but they dropped it in France, and the only one on whose lips I have heard it was a little French boy sitting on the tail of a cart. The chorus alone gave it popularity for it was the expression, ready to hand, of a long farewell; and with its "long long way to go" showed that, like Kitchener, the soldiers were not deceived by hopes of an early peace.

Now another song with verses more expressive of their sentiments has taken its place. The chorus runs:

"There's a long, long trail a-winding
             Into the land of my dreams,
Where the nightingales are singing
             And a white moon beams;
There's a long, long night of waiting
            Until my dreams all come true;
Till the day when I'll be going down
             That long, long trail with you."

Then the mood changes and we hear the lads piping out,

"Taffy's got his Jennie in Glamorgan,
             Sandy's got his Maggie in Dundee,
While Michael O'Leary thinks of his dearie
             Far across the Irish Sea.
Billy's got his Lily up in London,
             So the boys march on with smiles;
For every Tommy's got a girl somewhere
             In the dear old British Isles."

Again the mood veers round, and we hear,

 "Every little while I feel so lonely,
            Every little while I feel so blue,
I'm always dreaming, I'm always scheming,
            Because I want you, and only you.
Every little while my heart is aching,
             Every little while I miss your smile,
And all the time I seem to miss you;
I want to, want to kiss you,
            Every, every, every little while."

From: The Soul of The Soldier: Sketches from the Western Battle-Front
By Thomas Teplady

Friday, March 27, 2015

Burial Sites of Notable World War I Participants

From Regular Contributor Steve Miller

Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Sophia, Duchess of Hohenberg 

Józef Piłsudski, Wawel Cathedral, Kraków, Poland

Henry Gunther, 79th Division AEF, Last Man Killed in Action in WWI

Quentin and Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., U.S. Cemetery, Normandy

Considered by Pershing the Outstanding Soldier of the AEF

Capt. Edward Rickenbacker, 94th Aero Squadron, AEF

Alfred Dreyfus, Montparnasse Cemetery, Paris

Norman Prince, Founding Member of the Lafayette Escadrille
National Cathedral, Washington DC

Manfred von Richthofen, South Cemetery, Wiesbaden, Germany

Lothar von Richthofen, South Cemetery, Wiesbaden, Germany

Wilhelm II, Huis Doorn, Utrechtse Heuvelrug, Netherlands

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Remembering a Veteran: Sgt. Bill the Goat, 5th Infantry Battalion, CEF

Contributed by Joyce Kennedy

The men managed to get the goat on board the SS Lapland and overseas to England, where they arrived in October 1914. They managed to keep him from being quarantined when they arrived and moved to Lark Hill Camp. Billy was smuggled to France in February 1915 by his "boys", who refused to leave him behind as ordered. Soon after he arrived at the front, Billy was caught nosing around the orderly room. The battalion roll was found to be missing and Billy was placed under arrest for theft when chewed remnants of the roll were found in his billet. A second arrest within a month for  charging on a superior officer put Billy into disfavor. 

However, all was forgiven when he distinguished himself in later battles. At Neuve Chapelle in February 1915 Billy was given the rank of sergeant. Later at Ypres, he was once found in a shell crater standing guard over a Prussian guardsman, in spite of the fact that he was bleeding from a shrapnel wound. Billy was also gassed during the Second Battle of Ypres and afterward disappeared. The men much feared that he had fallen into the hands of the Bengal Lancers from India, who were reputed to have a taste for goat curry. However, he was found, safe and sound. 

He got trench foot at Hill 63 in December 1915 and was shell-shocked at Hill 70 in April 1917 during the battle for Vimy Ridge, problems also suffered by many of his human comrades. He was wounded twice by shrapnel at Festubert. He is also credited with saving three people's lives, getting more shrapnel wounds in his neck in the process, for which he received the Mons Star. During a time of shelling, Sergeant Billy, possibly forewarned by his superior hearing, once butted a sergeant and two others into a mud-filled trench just before a shell exploded where they had been standing. Bill also received the General Service Medal and the Victory Medal.

When the Fighting Fifth got home to western Canada, Sergeant Bill led the parade. When he died, Bill was stuffed, mounted, and placed in the Saskatchewan Legislative Building. Eventually he was returned to Broadview, where he now has a place of honor in the Broadview Museum.

Source: The Canadian Veterinary Journal, November 1993

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

AEF vs. K u K

Question:  Did the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) ever face off against the Imperial and Royal (K u K) forces of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the Great War?

Answer:  Yes, in three cases that I can find.

1.  The Western Front

Some of the Empire's Soldiers on the Western Front

Kaiser Karl had actually agreed that six Austro-Hungarian Divisions would be transferred to the Western Front, and although this number was never reached (four eventually seeing service there) initially just two were despatched in July 1918. These were the 1st Infantry Division and the 35th Infantry Division plus some heavy artillery. Both divisions were assigned to Army Group Gallwitz, the 1st Division to the German 5th Army, east of the Meuse, and the 35th Division to Army Detachment C Southeast of Verdun in the St. Mihiel Salient.

The 35th Division then saw action in the St. Mihiel Salient on 12 September 1918. Caught by surprise, the division suffered heavy casualties with the remaining troops withdrawing to the Michael Line.

The 1st Division was deployed on the east side of the Meuse, when the U.S. First Army forced a crossing on 8 October 1918. They resisted the American advance around Sivry for three days before being forced back. In this action Oberstleutnant Rudolph Popelka of Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 5 became the only foreign non-general, to be awarded the Pour le Mérite for his valorous service.

2.  Italian Front

In the aftermath of Italy's Caporetto disaster American units were sent to the Italian Front. These included the 332nd Infantry Regiment, which joined the pursuit against Austro-Hungarian forces in the Vittorio Veneto victory offensive, which ended the war in Italy. The regiment suffered two casualties in the operation.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

First, Over the Front: Lt. William G. Schauffler
Reviewed by Peter L. Belmonte

First, Over the Front: Lt. William G. Schauffler
Stanley Walsh, Editor
AuthorHouse, 2011 (reissue)

Capt. W. G. Schauffler — Standing; Lt. Fred Tillman — Seated in a Salmson 2A2,
Bethelainville Aerodrome, France, 11 November 1918

William G. Schauffler, Jr., served as a pilot in the U.S. Army Air Service during the Great War. Schauffler, and other members of his family (father, brothers, cousins, and uncles) who also served during the war, wrote many letters home; his Aunt Ray (Rachel Capen Schauffler) compiled the men's letters and produced a periodic family newsletter that was sent to all the men in service and various other family members. Editor Stanley Walsh, himself a World War II Army Air Forces flier, met Schauffler in the 1930s. Years later, Walsh gathered the letters and newsletters from Schauffler family members, in particular Kate Schauffler Hawkins, Schauffler's daughter. The result of Walsh's efforts is this fine book.

Schauffler was born in 1891 in Beirut, Lebanon, the son of a prominent missionary doctor. In 1895 Billy (as he is called throughout the book) moved with his family to New Jersey. In the years prior to the war, Billy did a stint in the National Guard, attended the Businessman's Military Training Camp at Plattsburg, New York, and took private flying lessons. In 1916 he was accepted into military flight training. Following his graduation, he accepted a reserve commission in the Army. In early 1917 Billy was activated and sent to Columbus, New Mexico, as part of the 1st Aero Squadron. In August, the 1st Aero Squadron deployed to France and became the first aero squadron in the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF).

After serving in the 1st Aero Squadron for about ten months, Billy was given command of the 90th Aero Squadron. He soon earned a reputation as a strict commander who worked his men to the limit but who also showed great concern for them. The demands and stresses of commanding a squadron of 250 men in combat soon took a toll on Billy, and from 24 July to 13 September he was hospitalized with trench fever and jaundice. As a testimonial to his leadership, his entire squadron wrote letters asking that he be returned to command the 90th upon his release from the hospital.

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While at the hospital Billy helped tend to gassed Doughboys. In his letters he commented on the way the wounded and gassed men bore their afflictions quietly and with as much good humor as their terrible pain and suffering would allow. Upon hearing of the start of the St. Mihiel Offensive, Billy and other patients petitioned the commander of the hospital and were able to secure releases back to their units. Billy arrived just in time to fly a mission during the final days of the offensive.

While flying these missions, enemy planes and ground forces were not the only things the aircrews had to contend with. Friendly artillery fire filled the air over the front lines with tons of deadly shells streaking to their targets. On one mission during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, Billy commented that he saw the shells streaming through the air, something he had previously thought was a fairy tale. He casually summed it up: "How we escaped our own barrage is a mystery to me" (p. 171). Also on this flight, Billy and his observer, Lt. Morton Adams, were jumped by eight Fokkers. According to Billy, the Germans were "…rotten shots. Although they shot away the upper control wires of my elevators, and just riddled the plane with bullet holes, they never touched either of us" (pp. 270–271). Billy and Adams shot down one Fokker, and the rest "ran away". Billy and Adams were each awarded the Croix de Guerre for their actions during this flight. The 90th lost only one plane during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, shot down by German machine gun or rifle fire while flying at an altitude of 30 meters.

In late October, Billy assumed command of the 3rd Observation Group. After the war Billy was promoted to major and served on the AEF staff. Walsh includes an epilogue that covers Billy's post-war activities, which included a recall to active duty during World War II, until his death in 1951. Also included are several appendices that give brief biographies of some people mentioned in the letters, copies of citations, and a description of some World War I aircraft.

Billy's letters reflect his youthful carefree attitude and the bravado of Great War military aviators. His letters are filled with descriptions of life on the aerodromes, interactions with French civilians, occasional trips to Paris (where he relished one hot bath after another), harrowing flights in horrible weather, etc. While there are no great revelations in Billy's letters, Great War "buffs" will be interested in his descriptions of minor details associated with being a pilot in the Army Air Service during the war. Billy was also a poet, and there are several of his poems reprinted here.

Editor Walsh has wisely kept his commentary to a minimum; he lets Billy tell his own story while he contributes only enough extra information to add some background to the story. As a retired U.S. Air Force aviator, I found Billy's eight-page description of a typical observation sortie, which included references that showed the primitive state of such things as cockpit intercommunications, fascinating. Anyone interested in World War I aviation will be enlightened and entertained by this book.

Peter L. Belmonte

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Rise and Triumph of Clemenceau

By Professor Pierre Miquel (1930–2007)
Professor of History, The Sorbonne, Paris, France

After much internal debate the ill-fated Chemin des Dames offensive of General Robert Nivelle went ahead on 16 April 1917 and quickly ground to a halt. The dead and missing between the period April to June 1916 in that sector alone mounted to well over 100,000 men. 

Statue at Place Clemenceau in Paris

It took this failure and mutinies affecting half the French Army to bring Georges Clemenceau into the post of prime minister in November 1917. In contrast with the timidity of his predecessors, Clemenceau boldly increased civilian control over the military leadership, which now was in the hands of Pétain and Foch. Furthermore he involved himself personally with the Allies to coordinate the applications of basic military strategies. Thus he found no major difficulties in convincing Lloyd George and President Wilson, to accept Foch as overall military leader of the alliance, in the spring of 1918. At the French military operational level, for instance, he pressed Pétain to move up French divisions to help Haig take the brunt of the Ludendorff Offensive in April 1918. At a later date he also pressed Foch to request British divisional support in Champagne, after Ludendorff had shifted his assaults onto the French sector. 

During the weeks preceding the 11 November armistice, another political debate involving the generals took place. Pétain agreed with [an] American position, expressed by Pershing [who was not speaking for President Wilson], which advocated not to sign an armistice before Allied troops had penetrated into the Rhineland.  As for Foch, he approved the British strategic goals which had set as a priority the military liberation of Flanders and Belgium. Clemenceau, after convincing Lloyd George, ignored their advice and imposed the signature of an armistice immediately. By that date the French nation had lost nearly 1.4 million military personnel, dead or missing in action. 

Victory as Commemorated on a French Magazine Cover

While Clemenceau had been accused of acting as a dictator by his political opponents, he had nevertheless succeeded in controlling the military to the end , notably by taking advantage of the rivalry existing between Foch and Pétain. Under this point of view, his political mastery helped make the final victory and the armistice of  11 November possible.

Selected from a paper Professor Miquel originally presented at the 2003 Seminar of the Great War Society.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

100 Years Ago: The Fall of Fortress Przemyśl, Verdun of the East

Contributed by Professor Graydon Tunstall

The military of the Austro-Hungarian had been deeply embarrassed in 1914 by its failed invasions of Serbia. However, a greater humiliation and and irreversible manpower loss unfolded for the Empire in the early months of 1915.

Prior to the outbreak of World War I, few had ever heard of Fortress Przemyśl, a complex of 31 full forts and 10 fortified field artillery batteries, situated in the far-off Polish province of Galicia with a name difficult to pronounce. However, from September 1914 through its surrender on 22 March 1915, this isolated, obscure fortification became the center of military strategy for General Conrad von Hötzendorf, chief of the Austro-Hungarian General Staff. Russian forces besieged the Habsburg fortress twice, once in September and again in November 1914. The ensuing battles produced tens of thousands of casualties in vain attempts by the fortress garrison and Habsburg field army to liberate the bulwark. The first siege followed on the heels of the disastrous Habsburg defeats at the two battles of Lemberg on 11 September 1914, which forced the Austro-Hungarian army to retreat 150 kilometers. Habsburg forces launched an offensive on 1 October 1914 with the objective to regain control of the citadel after Russian mass attacks sought to capture it. Unfortunate defeats on the northern German front required Habsburg troops to again withdraw from the fortress environs on 4 November 1914, when their northern flank became exposed, resulting in the second siege.  Attempts at liberation followed in December 1914, followed by Conrad's three major offensives during the Carpathian Winter War of 1915. Weather, terrain, and a nearly impossible supply situation combined with catastrophic Habsburg defeats during the Carpathian Mountain campaigns. 

The third, final, and equally disastrous offensive effort consisting of only an infantry corps-sized attack force was launched on 20 March 1915. The operation had absolutely no chance for success because only 33,000 troops had to somehow advance 100 kilometers over winter mountain terrain to re-conquer the fortress in two days. Meanwhile, the fortress garrison received orders to launch a breakthrough effort in an attempt to reach the field armies before the bulwark was forced to surrender. The tragedy for the starved and exhausted garrison soldiers was that their brave efforts were doomed to fail. The attempt commenced just as the field army forces received orders to delay their attack toward the citadel for two days. It was too late to call off the fortress breakthrough attempt, but Second Army and V Corps were never informed that the fortress effort had already failed before V Corps launched its bloody, failed effort. Estimates of the Austro-Hungarian casualties during the siege vary greatly; it is believed at least 80,000 were killed and more than 30,000 were wounded.

Damage at the Forts

On 22 March at 5:00 A.M. all fortress artillery pieces, except some 1861-vintage models, were reputedly destroyed, followed by any equipment or material that could be utilized by the enemy, including killing the last starving horses. The fortress command staff dined on the few remaining carrier pigeons for their “Last Supper". Three hours later the first Russian troops marched into Przemyśl. Nine generals, 2,600 officers,  and 117,000 enlisted soldiers were taken prisoner. After the surrender, Fortress Przemyśl disappeared from the news until the Gorlice-Tarnov offensive launched on 2 May and its recapture on 3 June 1915.

The Austro-Hungarian army, however, never recovered from its losses in the winter of 1914–1915.The Habsburgs would rely henceforth on German assistance in their sectors of the Eastern Front, the Balkans, and even in Italy for mounting the Caporetto Offensive.  The disaster at Przemyśl in March had validated suspicions that Austria-Hungary was an empire in steep decline and from that point the disintegration accelerated.

See our earlier discussion of the importance of Przemyśl by Rodney Walton at:

Friday, March 20, 2015

A Landscape Artist Looks at War — Albert Fullwood, Assigned to 5th Division, Australian Imperial Force

A Tank Depot in the French Countryside

From April 1915 until November 1917 illustrator Albert Fullwood served with the Royal Army Medical Corps as an orderly at the 3rd London General Hospital at Wandsworth in the company of fellow artists Coates, Roberts, and Streeton. He was subsequently appointed an official war artist , attached to the 5th Division AIF, working in France between May and August 1918 and from December 1918 to January 1919. 

Damage from  an Exploded Munitions Train

The Prince of Wales Visit to AIF Headquarters at Ham-sur-Heure

His major contribution as a war artist was to record aspects of the war which others may not have noticed or taken for granted. His works have a narrative element and captured Australian soldiers in "straightforwardly picturesque views of their environment". Fullwood returned to Australia in 1920 after his commission was terminated and became a foundation member of the Australian Painter- Etchers' Society in 1920 and the Australian Watercolour Institute in 1924. He died from pneumonia in October 1930.

Explosions Over the Somme: Opening of the Battle of Hamel

Source: Australian War Memorial Website:

Thursday, March 19, 2015

100 Years Ago: It's 1915, What Is Ferdinand Foch Up To?

My center is giving way, my right is in retreat; 
situation excellent. I shall attack.
Foch at the Marne, 1914

After the Western Front was established, the French commander-in-chief, General Joffre, did not believe he had any choice but to keep attacking the enemy now occupying big parts of his nation. Also he could not afford to let his most important allies, the Russians,  to believe – for even a second – that the French were less than determined to hold up their end of the alliance. So in 1915, in violation of the military principles of mass and concentration, the French went on the attack just about everywhere on the Western Front. Joffre would unfortunately be quoted describing this disastrous strategy as "nibbling away at the enemy." France would suffer 1.9 million casualties during 1915, worse than the coming year with Verdun. 

Newspaper Photo of Foch from the War

There is a piece of the Western Front, running north of Paris to the Channel, principally entailing the department known at the Pas de Calais. The heart of the Pas de Calais is a district known as Artois, the largest city of which is Arras, about 110 miles north of Paris. Just north of Arras are a series of ridges known as the de Lorette Heights. A chap named Napoleon Bonaparte, who knew something about battlefields in France, once said, "Whoever dominates the de Lorette Heights commands France." This was validated, by the way, in 1940, when the last big effort of the Allies to stop the German Panzers was defeated in the shadow of these ridges and the Germans quickly got to the Channel and turned on Paris. France soon fell.

A similar situation was very close to developing in 1915, because in the late stage of the 1914 campaign, known as the Race to the Sea, German forces had occupied the two key positions on the heights, Notre Dame de Lorette and Vimy Ridge. But in 1915 the French had their "fightingest commander" deployed there. His name was Ferdinand Foch. 

After the Marne, Foch had been sent to coordinate efforts to counter German flanking efforts to the north of Paris and succeeded admirably. For the 1915 campaign he turned his focus almost entirely on the great threat to France in the Artois and the de Lorette Heights.

Before the war he had been among foremost proponents of a strictly offensive approach to war. In 1914, though, his big achievements  — ironically — were standing on the defensive on the Marne and in Flanders. The situation in Artois, on the other hand, gave him the opportunity of taking the offense once again. He relished the opportunity with big hopes for a super-breakthrough to drive the Germans from the homeland. Unfortunately, he demonstrated over a year of trying that — like every other general of 1915 — he had no formula for breaking through the trenches.

There was constant fighting  in Artois throughout 1915. Notre Dame de Lorette heights fell to the French in a May operation, but Vimy Ridge was held by the German Army until April 1917. Its capture, of course, most remembered as the greatest achievement of the Canadian forces in the war. The German Army, however, realizing the importance of the area would hold on nearby until October 1918 when it was finally forced to evacuate the Pas de Calais.  

Dead French Soldier and German Trench at N.D. de Lorette

Except for that Canadian victory, the Artois and de Lorette Heights are one of the neglected battlefields of the Great War in most English-language sources. For some reason they lack the "sex appeal" of Flanders or Verdun for historians. However, consider this — on the crest of Notre Dame de Lorette rest the remains of 40,000 Frenchmen in France's largest war cemetery, and alongside them is a massive new elliptical monument, something in the character of America's Vietnam Memorial, with the names of all the combatants of all nations who fell nearby listed. There are 580,000 names on that monument, including some Americans, ten times the number on the Vietnam Memorial.

Foch would command the northern tier of French armies through 1916's Battle of the Somme, after which he was exiled to the Italian Front for a short time. However, in 1918 France would need a fighting general once again and Foch would be called upon. We will cover those activities in later installments.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Why Worry? A Practical Philosophy for the Trenches

Oxford graduate John "Max" Staniforth decided to enlist in the army to see what this war business was all about. He eventually earned a commission and was assigned to the 16th Division, one of the Irish formations of the British Army. In September 1916 his unit was at the Somme getting a good education in what the war business was all about. In a letter home to his parents, he shared the philosophy he had developed to deal with the stress and strain of combat.

Searching for a Philosophy
The Menin Road, 1916

The only way to be here is to be philosophical. We have evolved a philosophy accordingly. What do you think of it?

If you are a soldier, you are either: 
(1) at home or (2) at the Front.
If (1), you needn’t worry.
If (2), you are either (1) out of the danger zone or (2) in it.
If (1), you needn’t worry.
If (2), you are either (1) not hit, or (2) hit.
If (1), you needn’t worry.
If (2) you are either (1) trivial or (2) dangerous.
If (1), you needn’t worry.
If (2), you either (1) live or (2) die.
If you live, you needn’t worry: and – If you die, YOU CAN’T WORRY!!
So why worry?

Needless to say, despite being gassed, Staniforth survived the war.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Some Desperate Glory: The First World War the Poets Knew
Reviewed by David F. Beer

Some Desperate Glory: The First World War the Poets Knew

by Max Egremont
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014 (reissue)

Siegfried Sassoon
It's no secret that the Great War holds a far larger place in the consciousness of the British people than of the Americans. Thus the War Poets of 1914–1918 are taught in practically all English secondary schools and are a subject that students may choose to write on for their final exams. I first remember being introduced to Owen's "Strange Meeting" as a teenager while attending my local grammar school in Bideford in the county of Devon. The poets of the Great War still haunt us and are read for the content and quality of their verse. For many they remain popular in the canon of war literature. Moreover, their work has often had an influence on how the war has been remembered and interpreted by later generations.

Some Desperate Glory is engagingly written, effectively organized, and solidly researched—as is to be expected from the author of one of the best biographies of Siegfried Sassoon. Max Egremont looks at the work and lives (some tragically brief) of 11 of the best-known English war poets of the period—"eleven fragile young men who were unlikely warriors" (p. 263). These young men are Blunden, Brooke, Graves, Grenfell, Gurney, Nichols, Owen, Rosenberg, Sassoon, Sorley, and Thomas. We might argue that the author should have included a few other names or that one or two could have been omitted. We might not always be happy with his choice of poems at the end of each chapter, but of course this is a judgment call and there is so much to choose from.

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The book's five chapters, each devoted to a year of the war, are followed by several samples of work by poets who were in the war that year. These chapters are sandwiched by a lengthy prelude and aftermath. The author gradually gives us a moving insight into how each poet lived, fought, and, in most cases, died in action. Some died fairly early in the war (Brooke, Grenfell, Sorley), some later (Thomas, Rosenberg), while Owen was killed just a matter of days before the Armistice. Meanwhile, Nichols was medically discharged in 1916 due to shell-shock and Gurney died in an asylum in 1937—one of numerous veterans still hospitalized due to the war many years after it had ended. Only Blunden, Graves, and Sassoon survived to lead full lives and to write notable memoirs of their experiences in the trenches. Of the three, Robert Graves lived the longest, dying in 1985.

Edward Thomas
These "fragile young men", even apart from the war, were by no means run-of-the-mill individuals, and Egremont details their early lives as well as their war experiences and, in the case of the survivors, their later lives. Grenfell and Sassoon were aristocrats, Owen decidedly middle class. Rosenberg and Gurney had to work for their educations, the former also being a painter and the latter a composer who eventually went mad. Sassoon and Owen were homosexuals, and Robert Nichols, raised in an atheist family with a mother who often had nervous breakdowns, suffered from insomnia and manic depression and became fascinated by religion.

Before the war, Edward Thomas was a successful writer and reviewer but had dark moments when he thought of suicide  and actually attempted it once. He recorded in his early writings that "I was born to be a ghost." Rupert Brooke of course was everybody's poster boy as a handsome poet and soldier, and for a long time his work was considered the best of the war poets. Robert Graves went on to be a prodigious scholar and writer and after a few marriages and saying "goodbye to all that" in his war memoir, went to live in Majorca. Some of these poets met during the war, notably Sassoon and Owen during their respective stays at Craiglockhart, a hospital for shell-shocked officers. Some were influenced by the work of other poets, and Egremont often gives an excellent analysis of this kind of artistic influence and how each poet's work developed as a result of it.

Rupert Brooke
Some Desperate Glory nicely weaves the story of these poets into a tapestry of their lives, their war, and their poetry. Much useful commentary is given on many of the poems. The author shows how these men suffered because of their sensitivities and artistic temperaments. He also describes how a few of them (particularly Owen and Sassoon) in some ways enjoyed the war, loved their men, and wanted to be there with them. By the end of this book we have a full picture of the course of the war, the part these poets played in it, the toll it took on them, and why their war poetry is still well worth reading today. Admittedly it is a body of poetry related to a specific time and place, but its message is just as poignant and relevant today in a world that still seems to be in love with war.

Edward Thomas, who under the influence of Robert Frost started writing poetry soon after the outbreak of war, overcame his depression sufficiently to enlist. He was killed in action at Arras on 9 April 1917, after being in France only three months. It is fitting that the title and theme of our blog takes these lines from his poem “Roads", summing up as they do what was to be the experience of so many:

Now all roads lead to France
And heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead
Returning lightly dance.

David F. Beer

Monday, March 16, 2015

Technology and the March to War: Major Inventions and Discoveries in the Century before the Great War

First transatlantic steamship: the Savannah

Samuel Colt patents the revolver pistol

Colt's Original Revolver

Multiple sources develop rifled artillery

Samuel Morse sends his famous first telegraph message, "What hath God wrought?"

Lock-stitch sewing machine (cousin of the machine gun) is invented

Mitrailleuse, rapid firing shooter, developed by Belgian Army ten years before U.S. Gatling gun

First combustion engine

Henry lever-action repeating rifle patented in U.S.

Submarine CSS Hunley attacks Union blockade ship

Model of USS Hunley 

Alfred Nobel manufactures first dynamite

Transatlantic telegraph cable operational

Joseph Glidden awarded patent for barbed wire

John Holland submits first submarine design to U.S. Navy

Alexander Graham Bell demonstrates the telephone

Hiram Maxim perfects his machine gun

Hiram Maxim with His Invention

Benz and Daimler build a single-cylinder automobile based on internal combustion engine

Cordite, a smokeless gunpowder, invented

Diesel engine invented 

100th Anniversary Commemorative Stamp for Rudolf Diesel's Birth

Marconi presents the wireless

First aluminum rigid airship flies in Germany (first zeppelin—1900)

French 75 adopted by French Army

German Navy develops plans for first submarine, U-1

Wright Brothers first powered flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina

Keel for HMS Dreadnought laid

A Visitor Inspecting the HMS Dreadnought

Henry Ford introduces assembly line for Model T Fords