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

Sunday, May 31, 2015

German Torpedo Boats 0f World War I

The German torpedo boats of World War I were designed to execute torpedo attacks on bigger warships. While other nations like Britain started to increase the size and gun armament of their torpedo boats — or torpedo boat destroyers — and designed a ship that would later just be called "destroyer", the German Navy stayed with the idea of small craft that were to focus on their torpedoes as their main weapons.

Depiction of a Boat in Action

During the war, it became obvious that the artillery component of those boats had to be increased. Therefore, all torpedo boat classes laid down during wartime got more and larger guns — the climax were the large torpedo boats ("Große Torpedoboote") of the Design 1916 — with their four 15cm guns. At  over 2000 tons they were the biggest and most powerful ships of their kind at the end of the war. They were in many ways the equivalent of the contemporary destroyers in other navies (they were often referred to as such by their crews). 

Torpedo Boat G-136 at Sea

The combat effectiveness of the German torpedo boat squadrons, however, was not very impressive. In an early, October 1914, action off the Dutch coast, a British flotilla consisting of a light cruiser and four destroyers sank an entire squadron of torpedo boats causing German commanders to lose confidence in the vessels. As a direct result, there were very few further sorties into the Channel and the torpedo boat force was relegated to coastal patrol and rescuing downed pilots for fear of similar losses. Consequently, it is difficult to find accounts of the boats sinking Allied ships. The sinkings of a British minelaying sloop and a single destroyer, were all the editors could find.

A Flotilla in Port

Germany built over 300 torpedo boats by the end of World War I, and 67l of them were lost because of enemy actions. Fifty of the most  modern ones were interned in Scapa Flow and scuttled there in June 1919; only a few of them were not sunk. Of the 114 boats left in Germany, only 24 were allowed to be kept after the Treaty of Versailles, but most of the remaining boats were of such a bad condition that it was difficult to keep even 24 of them running. Most of those boats were later reconstructed and several of them were even used for auxiliary duties during World War II.


  3. Wikipedia

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Who Was Pietro Badoglio?

Pietro Badoglio (1871–1956) joined the Italian Army and was a junior officer in Ethiopia (1896–97) and Tripolitania (1911–12). During the First World War he rose in rank rapidly. His greatest wartime achievement was leading the capture of highly fortified Monte Sabatino near Gorizia.

A key core commander at Caporetto in October 1917, his troop dispositions and lack of direction to his artillery is believed to have contributed to the catastrophic defeat. However, he avoided censure due to the suppression of records and evidence by Italian premier Orlando and his own tireless distortion of the official history.

Badoglio became chief of staff of the Italian Army after World War I for 15 years  after reversing his anti-Mussolini political views. He successfully led the invasion of Ethiopia in the 1930s. He later opposed Italy's joining the Axis Powers and resigned after the defeat of the Italian forces in Greece after hostilities broke out. After the fall of Mussolini he became Italy's premier and negotiated the armistice with the Allies.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Lusitania Propaganda Posters

The sinking of RMS Lusitania on 7 May 1915, was absolutely a rolling propaganda bonanza for the Allies and the pro-intervention forces in America.  These posters date from just after the sinking, to after the U.S. entry into the war, to the interwar period.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Shell Shock Recognized Before the Great War

The state takes away our responsibility but cannot ease our grief, we have to carry it alone and it reaches deep within our dreams.
Ernst Jünger, Storm of Steel

[I ran across this article at least a decade ago. It's actually a highly informed piece from a medical journal, but it starts with a description of how the phenomenon of shell shock, today known as PTSD, was long recognized by early authors.]

Mankind's earliest literature tells us that a significant proportion of military casualties are psychological, and that witnessing death can leave chronic psychological symptoms. As we are reminded in Deuteronomy 20:1-9, military leaders have long been aware that many soldiers must be removed from the front line because of nervous breakdown, which is often contagious:

When thou goest out to battle against thine enemies, and seest horses, and chariots, and a people more than thou... the officers shall say, What man is there that is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go and return unto his house, lest his brethren's heart faint as well as his heart. (King James Version )

Mankind's first major epic, the tale of Gilgamesh, gives us explicit descriptions of both love and post-traumatic symptoms, suggesting that the latter are also part of human fundamental experience. After Gilgamesh loses his friend Enkidu, he experiences symptoms of grief, as one may expect. But after this phase of mourning, he races from place to place in panic, realizing that he too must die. This confrontation with death changed his personality. The first case of chronic mental symptoms caused by sudden fright in the battlefield is reported in the account of the battle of Marathon by Herodotus, written in 440 BC (History, Book VI, trans. George Rawlinson):

A strange prodigy likewise happened at this fight. Epizelus, the son of Cuphagoras, an Athenian, was in the thick of the fray and behaving himself as a brave man should, when suddenly he was stricken with blindness, without blow of sword or dart; and this blindness continued thenceforth during the whole of his afterlife. The following is the account which he himself, as I have heard, gave of the matter: he said that a gigantic warrior, with a huge beard, which shaded all his shield, stood over against him; but the ghostly semblance passed him by, and slew the man at his side. Such, as I understand, was the tale which Epizelus told.

It is noteworthy that the symptoms are caused not by a physical wound but by fright and the vision of a killed comrade, and that they persist ewer the years. The loss of sight has the primary benefit of blotting out the vision of danger, and the secondary benefit of procuring support and care. Frightening battle dreams are mentioned by Hippocrates (4607-377 bc), and in Lucretius's poem, De Rerum Natura, written in 50 BC (Book IV, trans. William Ellery Leonard):

The minds of mortals... often in sleep will do and dare the same... Kings take the towns by storm, succumb to capture, battle on the field, raise a wild cry as if their throats were cut even then and there. And many wrestle on and groan with pains, and fill all regions round with mighty cries and wild, as if then gnawed by fangs of panther or of lion fierce.

This text shows very vividly the emotional and behavioral re-experiencing of a battle in sleep. Besides Greco-Latin classics, old Icelandic literature gives us an example of recurring nightmares after battle. The Gisli Súrsson Saga tells us that the hero dreams so frequently of battle scenes that he dreads obscurity and cannot stay alone at night.

Jean Froissart (1337?–1400/01) was the most representative chronicler of the Hundred Years War between England and France. He sojourned in 1388 at the court of Gaston Phoebus, Comte de Foix, and narrated the case of the Comte's brother, Pierre de Beam, who could not sleep near his wife and children, because of his habit of getting up at night and seizing a sword to fight oneiric enemies. The fact that soldiers are awakened by frightening dreams in which they re-experience past battles is a common theme in classical literature, as, for instance, Mercutio's account of Queen Mab in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (I, iv):

Sometime she driveth o'er a soldier's neck.
And then dreams he of cutting foreign throats.
Of breaches, ambuscadoes, Spanish blades,
Of healths five fathom deep; and then anon
Drums in his ear, at which he starts and wakes,
And being thus frighted, swears a prayer or two,
And sleeps again.

Etiologic hypotheses were put forward by army physicians during the French Revolutionary wars (1792–1800) and the Napoleonic wars (1800–1815). They had observed that soldiers collapsed into protracted stupor after shells brushed past them, although they emerged physically unscathed. This led to the description of the “vent du boulet” syndrome, where subjects were frightened by the wind of passage of a cannonball. The eerie sound of incoming shells was vividly described by Goethe, in his memoirs of the cannonade at the battle of Valmy in 1792 — “The sound is quite strange, as if it were made up of the spinning of a top, the boiling of water, and the whistling of a bird.” In the same text, Goethe gives an account of the feelings of derealization and depersonalization induced by this frightening environment:

I could soon realize that something unusual was happening in if you were in a very hot place, and at the same time impregnated with that heat until you blended completely with the element surrounding you. Your eyes can still see with the same acuity and sharpness, but it is as if the world had put on a reddish-brown hue that makes the objects and the situation still more scary...I had the impression that everything was being consumed by this fire...this situation is one of the most unpleasant that you can experience.

"From shell shock and war neurosis to posttraumatic stress disorder: a history of psychotraumatology" by Marc-Antoine Crocq, MD, and Louis Crocq, MD, in Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, March 2000

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Great Serbian Retreat

The Central Powers' invasion of Serbia began on 7 October 1915 as Austro-German troops attack ed from the north. A week later, the Bulgarians declared war and attacked from the east. The outnumbered Serbs were poorly supplied and stretched too thin to defend both fronts. Belgrade then fell to the Germans and the Bulgarians captured Kumanova, severing the country's north-south rail line. 

The Retreat Begins

Serbian Field Marshal Radomir Putnik ordered a full retreat of the Serbian military south and west through Allied Montenegro and into neutral Albania on 25 November 1915. 

Transport Abandoned on the Roads

The retreat got fully under way by mid-December with the troops joined by civilian refugees. King Peter and Putnik accompanied the columns. Boys, who could become soldiers in the future, were also encouraged to join.

Through the Mountains

The roads were terrible and transport had to be abandoned. The weather in the mountains was equally bad.

Field Marshal Putnik Became Ill and Had to Be Carried

The same conditions also limited the pursuit by the enemy. Nonetheless many others were lost to hunger, disease, hypothermia, and raids by Albanian tribal bands. Some estimates of the dead during the retreat are as high as 200,000.

Exhausted Survivors Arrive

About 155,000 exhausted Serbians — mostly soldiers — started reaching the coast by January 1916. Allied ships carried them to various Greek islands, particularly Corfu, for refitting before being sent to Salonika.

Respite in Corfu

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

World War I Law and Lawyers: Issues, Cases, and Characters
Reviewed by Peter Belmonte

World War I Law and Lawyers: Issues, Cases, and Characters
by Thomas J. Shaw
ABA Publishing, 2014

It is no surprise that World War I, like any war, is intimately involved with a tangled nest of national and transnational legal issues. In this book, Thomas J. Shaw seeks to provide some background and explanation for many of these issues. The text is at once a legal reference book and a history book. Shaw, an attorney and author with an impressive depth and breadth of experience, has written an exhaustive but readable treatise with this volume. With no legal background, I found the book easy to understand, although it is probably best tackled in small sections, as the book's format readily allows. One may read about a particular topic and skip around as desired. Shaw's thick (almost 500 pages of text) volume is broken down into seven chapters, each reflecting a specific time and location to better allow the reader to digest and process the vast amount of information herein. The chapters are:
  • Before the War
  • Europe: International and Military Issues
  • Europe: Domestic Issues
  • United States: International and Military Issues
  • United States: Domestic Issues
  • Europe and Elsewhere: War Crimes, Uprisings, & Horses
  • After the War

Order Now

Each chapter is then subdivided into sections covering various subjects and topics to provide greater granularity to the overall topic. Furthermore, each case is followed by a brief "Subsequent Events" section that serves "to link the legal issues that arose during this war to subsequent events and, where it makes sense, to modern applications" (p. xvi).

In the text, we find cases about war prizes and neutrality, espionage, the disposition of horses after the war, treaties, business contracts, and shipping insurance. One might read of war dogs one day and the Mixed Claims Commission settling claims arising from the sinking of the Lusitania the next. A more or less random sampling of some issues which I found particularly interesting follows:

The section "Allegations against the Military Justice System", in a chapter about the United States, concerns the response of the Judge Advocate General (JAG) to postwar public and Congressional concern about the military justice system. The JAG outlined 14 specific concerns and addressed each one specifically; brief summaries of the points are given in the text. In the section covering treason in Europe, the tangled case of Mata Hari is briefly presented with all its bizarre and tragic turns. The Lusitania and the Zimmermann telegram, both of which impacted and tested U.S. neutrality, are covered.

Examples of the various claims arising from the sinking of the Lusitania provide interesting reading in both the European and U.S. sections; it seems that there was no end to the various angles and situations involved with those who suffered loss in that tragedy. And the Lusitania is just one of many ships, the loss of which impacted some legal aspect of one country or another, covered in this book. The change in America's status from a neutral nation to a belligerent nation sparked a number of legal issues revolving around business contracts and ownership of companies and assets; these reveal aspects of the war that might not be written about in other histories. The European section on the execution of soldiers for desertion is poignant and brings home the sadness associated with forcing men to perform unpleasant tasks required in time of war.

Newton Baker, Secretary of War & Lawyer – Mata Hari, Dancer & Defendant

The book is interspersed with brief biographies of lawyers who, in some way, affected the case under review. The gamut of these dozens of sketches is impressive, and men and women from many countries are represented. Such prominent and well-known lawyers as General John Pershing, Newton Baker, Benjamin Disraeli, William Gladstone, and Otto von Bismarck are joined by lesser -known lawyers; the total list serves to illustrate the broad international scope of the legal issues of the war.

These are just a few of the many cases, issues, and personalities covered in this book. It will be a rare reader who will not learn something from it. As a student of American military history, I found the book to be very helpful to me in providing the international legal background to the men, units, and battles I study and write about. I recommend this book without hesitation to all those who want to learn about the behind-the-scenes legal aspects of the Great War.

Peter Belmonte

Monday, May 25, 2015

Great Memorial Day News!

Top Graphic from the WWI Commission; American Veterans by Shannon Neil

Nearly a Century Later — It is finally coming!

On 21 May 2015, the National WWI Commemoration Commission released details on the competition for the design of the National Memorial for the war. Complete information on the Memorial Design Competition with a number of helpful downloads, including the competition manual can be found at:

Some Quick Facts on the Memorial and Design Competition

Memorial Site

As previously announced, the site for the National World War I Memorial is at Pershing Park in Washington, DC, less than  a quarter mile from the White House. It is a 1.8-acre parcel bounded by Pennsylvania Avenue NW on the north, 15th Street NW on the west, E Street NW on the south, and 14th Street NW on the east. 

Eligibility for Design Competition

Stage I of this competition is an open, international competition, open to any professionals, university-level students, or any other interested participants who register and pay the required submission fee. A participant may be an individual, a team of individuals, or a firm.


The schedule is very ambitious. The first stage submittals are due by 21 July 2015. The final selection of the design and design team will be in January 2016.

Design Goals for the National Memorial Include:

1. Pershing Park will be a national World War I Memorial, in contrast to today’s park that only incidentally includes a small memorial to General Pershing and the American Expeditionary Forces under his command. 

2. The Memorial should honor the heroism and valor of the American servicemen and women who served, fought, and died in World War I, and should commemorate the tragedy and magnitude of loss suffered by the United States in the conflict. 

3. The Memorial should be timeless and meaningful for future generations, which can be achieved through appropriate interpretive elements including (but not limited to) figurative or other sculpture, traditional monument forms, and relevant quotations or other texts relating to American participation in World War I. The Memorial shall not list names of individual servicemen and women who served or were killed in World War I. 

Additional key points: The Memorial should be designed primarily as open space; buildings or indoor spaces are strongly discouraged. . . the Memorial should be designed to be constructed at a cost no greater than $20-25 million . . . 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

100 Years Ago Today: First Shots Fired on the Italian Front, 24 May 1915

Information Kiosk at the Site

It was on the rugged, heavily forested plateau called the Altopiano that the first shots of Italy's war were fired from Monte Verena's four 150mm guns at 3 a.m. on 24 May 1915. An artillery duel ensued between Verena, located on a commanding 2,015-meter peak above the plateau, and its six sister forts on the Altopiano with the matching seven Austro-Hungarian Forts across the border.  Fort Verena — just completed in 1915 — would prove vulnerable to the enemy's powerful 305mm Skoda siege mortars. In June, a single 305mm round hit the magazine and killed most of the artillerymen inside.  The guns were removed and the fort limited in its use as an observation post.

Austrian Officers Inspecting the Fort After Its Capture in 1916

In 1916 when the Austrians launched the Italian Front's largest offensive outside the Isonzo sector, four of the seven Italian forts were destroyed or captured, including Monte Verena. The Altopiano's towns of Asiago and Arsiero were bombarded and overrun as well during the assault. The mountain is now a recreation site in both summer and winter. The views, of course, are great year-round.

Ruins of the Fort in 2011

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Ferdinand Porsche in the Great War

Ferdinand Porsche in 1898 – Two World Wars Awaiting Him

Probably most readers know that during the Second World War, automotive genius Ferdinand Porsche – creator of the the first front-wheel-drive car, the Volkswagen, and innumerable fine racing and road vehicles — designed tanks for the German Army.  Little is written, however, about the Austrian-Czech designer's work during the First World War.

Like any good subject  at the time of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, he made his contribution to the war effort. An interesting prequel to his work during the war is that — during his national military service in 1902, he served as a chauffeur for Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose preferred transport was an early design of Porsche, know as the Lohner-Porsche.

Replica of Porsche's First Hybrid Automobile, 1900

Anyway, as the war drew near, Porsche was technical director at Austro-Daimler, the Austrian branch of Daimler motor works. For the Skoda works he designed the transporter for the huge 305mm siege mortars. In 1912 he designed a mixed-drive system in which petrol-engine-driven generators produced electric current that could be conveyed to multiple cars. The system could be applied to such military uses as supply trains and artillery tractors. Known as Landwehrzug or "C-Trains", they were adaptable to both roadways and rail lines. As a spin-off he also designed mobile generators.

Tractor for 305mm Skoda Artillery Piece

Before the war, Porsche's attention had also been drawn to aircraft and airship engines. As early as 1911, the Lohner-Daimler Pleilflieger, with an engine designed by Porsche, won the Vienna-Budapest-Vienna air race. By the outbreak of the war, some experts considered the 120-hp engine produce by Austro-Daimler to be the most reliable in the world. By 1917 Porsche had produced a 225-hp engine used in a number of aircraft by the Central Powers. His team was working on even more powerful engines when the war ended.

C-Train Demonstration

The Armistice, of course, would remove all demand for military products. Porsche would concentrate in other areas, such as sports cars, until Germany and its new Fuhrer drew him back to weapons of war.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Newfoundland’s Enduring Memorials: Six Caribou, a Park, and a University

Contributed by James Patton

Royal Newfoundland Regiment Badge

Founded in 1583, Newfoundland (NF) was the Crown’s longest-held colony when it was granted dominion status in 1907 (confederation with Canada didn’t come until 1949). In August 1914, in response to patriotic urgings, the small nation (population 241,000) created the Newfoundland Regiment, and as a dominion, it was expected to bear all of the costs. The regiment never served with the Canadian Expeditionary Force, and was always much too small to form even a brigade, and so it was part of the British 88th Brigade, 29th Division. The Newfoundlanders served with heroism and distinction and on 28 September 1917 they were designated by the King as a Royal Regiment, the only regiment to be so honored during the Great War (only three Royal designations have ever been bestowed during wartime). 

The Newfoundlanders had a hot war:  they landed at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915, then came their tragic and heroic attack at Beaumont-Hamel on 1 July 1916, they were behind the tanks at Cambrai in 1917, and (as part of the 9th Division) chased the Germans from the Salient in the last hundred days. However, the story of the regiment is not the subject of this article. 

About 8,500 Newfoundlanders served in the Great War (the number of sailors isn’t exact); there were 1,570  killed or died and 2,314 wounded. 

In 1919, the Royal Newfoundland Regiment’s Catholic chaplain, Lt. Col. (Hon) the Rev. Thomas Nangle, who was also the NF Director of Graves Registration and Enquiry and NF's representative on the Imperial War Graves Commission, determined to create an impressive set of memorials independent of the IWGC. 

His plan had three parts:  to honor all who served, a traditional-style war memorial in the center of St. John’s (dedicated on 1 July 1924 by Field Marshal the Earl Haig); to honor the sacrifices of the regiment, the acquisition and preservation of the entire Beaumont Hamel battlefield and the erection of six distinctive Caribou statues following "the trail of the Caribou" through every major site where the Newfoundlanders served; and for the brighter future that the fallen would never see, the establishment of a college at St. John’s.  

Three of the Caribou from Top Left:  Newfoundland Memorial Park;
Courtrai/Kortrijk, Belgium; Bowring Park, St. John’s

Fr. Nangle led the formation of a charity to raise funds by public subscription. Every family in the country was asked to give NF$1, and about NF$35,000 was raised. Additionally, Sir William Coaker’s Fisherman’s Protective Union (a political party) kicked in NF$10,000, and the government eventually contributed funds from the sale of the Tobacco Monopoly. 

By 1921 Fr. Nangle had completed the purchase of 74 acres at Beaumont Hamel (10 more acres were acquired later), having come to terms with nearly 250 claimants, and thus the largest preserved area of the Somme Battlefield was created. He also purchased small parcels at Gueudecort, Masnieres, Monchy-le-Preux, and Courtrai/Kortrijk (in Belgium). Nangle’s group paid cash for all of the memorials, which a country about the size of Delaware could ill afford. Canada, on the other hand, was later given the 250 acres at Vimy Ridge by France "freely and for all time".

Sixteen memorial designs were submitted to Fr. Nangle. He recommended British sculptor ex-Captain Basil Gotto's plan to erect identical bronze caribou statues at locations where the regiment played a significant role. Fr. Nangle wrote that Gotto's design was "most distinctive, his idea being a giant caribou somewhat like the 'Monarch of the Topsails' carved in bronze on a rough cairn of Newfoundland granite about ten to fifteen feet high. This will be distinctive of the Regiment and of Newfoundland. It will be artistic and cheap, all five being cast from the same mould." The caribou statues cost approximately £1,000 each.

In the end, six of Gotto's caribou were cast — one for each of the five European sites and one possibly envisioned for Gallipoli but which ended up at Bowring Park in St. John's. Landscape architect R.H.K. Cochius designed all of the parks. The caribou in Europe overlook battlefields where Newfoundlanders fought and died. They were dedicated on 7 June 1925, again by Haig, in a ceremony at Beaumont-Hamel. 

Hard times were ahead for the little nation that tried so hard. In 1932 the government was declared insolvent, and Newfoundland reverted to Crown control, much to Whitehall’s chagrin. There were several reasons for this failure, and war costs, pensions, and the memorials program were on the list.

Contemporary View of Memorial University, St. John’s Campus

Impressive as the Beaumont-Hamel Park and the caribou are today, the unmatched and everlasting remembrance to Newfoundland’s service and sacrifice will always be Fr. Nangle’s little college, which opened in 1925 with 55 students to prepare young Newfoundlanders to teach or to attend British universities. Ninety years later the Memorial University of Newfoundland has over 18,000 students and 1,100 faculty at four campuses, including one in the UK, and is one of Canada’s leading universities, internationally recognized in education, engineering, business, and medicine, and ranked fifth in Canada by Macleans magazine in 2013. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

This Is How the News Came

Order of Induction into Military Service of the United States

The President of the United States

To: Joseph W. Doakes,

Greeting: Having submitted yourself to a local board composed of your neighbors for the purpose of determining the place and time in which you can best serve the United States in the present emergency, you are hereby notified that you have now been selected for immediate military service.

You will, therefore, report to the local board named below at: 48 South Grand Avenue at 4 pm, February 16, 1918 for military duty.

From and after the day and hour just named you will be a soldier in the military service of the United States.

Reporting for Duty

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Remembering a Veteran: Russian Immigrant Sam (Zalmon) Reuben Orlowsky, 319th Field Artillery, AEF

Contributed by Janice M. Sellers

Tombstone of Sam [Zalmon] Orloff,
Waldheim Cemetery, Chicago,
Cook County, Illinois.
Photo:  Carol Townsend
Zalmon Reuben Orlowsky was born about 1891, probably in Bachmach or Glukhov, Chernigov gubernia, Russian Empire (now Bakhmach and Hlukhiv, Chernihiv oblast, Ukraine). When he immigrated to the United States, arriving in New York City on 30 October 1906, his father was most likely already dead, as he listed his mother, Elke Orlowsky, as his closest relative in the “old country". His occupation given on the ship manifest was merchant. A family story says that he taught himself to read English by going back and forth between Russian and English versions of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

By 1910, Zalmon, now going by the last name of Orloff and sometimes the first name of Sam, was living in New Haven, Connecticut, and working as a shop laborer. On 16 December 1914, he was naturalized as an American citizen in New Haven. He registered for the draft on 5 June 1917, while living at 31 Anne Street in New Haven.

The state of Connecticut, to show its pride in its citizens who had served during the “War to End All Wars”, published a three-volume work in 1941 ( with details on those citizens’ service. According to his entry (in the second book), Zalmon was inducted into the National Army on 3 October 1917, at Local Board 2.

From letters Zalmon wrote to his sweetheart while he was in the Army, we know that he went through basic training at Camp Gordon, Georgia. His tour with the American Expeditionary Forces took him to France, where he was near the front lines with the 319th Field Artillery Regiment of the 82nd Division. As with many soldiers, he was deeply affected by what he saw during the war. Here are excerpts from some of his letters:

With the AEF in France, August 1918
“The night before last was the night when I began to lead the life of a real soldier. … [W]e camped in the woods on the grass without blankets even. German aeroplanes circled over the woods unceasingly. … In the morning we were awakened by a whiz of a shell flying overhead, the noise repeating itself every minute and a half. No matter how hard we tried to see the shells flying through the air it could not be detected.”

France, September 1918
“First, I am at the present moment in a … dugout which a few of my colleagues and myself have located in the neighborhood. … Second, my elbow is touching a fully loaded Colt, which may be needed any moment, as all kind of untoward persons prowl about the vicinity. Third, one of my best friends—the gas mask—is in alert position, as the Germans are likely to send over some of their nasty perfumes at any moment ….”

Still in the woods, October 4, 1918
“All of a sudden bombs began to explode right near us, and the light of the explosions simply blinded us. All of us instinctively fell to the ground and stretched ourselves flat, for that is the best protection from shrapnel and splinters. In fact, the bombs fell so near our barracks that pieces of the steel casing were to be found everywhere around them.”

Zalmon Orloff’s World War I draft registration card.

Zalmon was assigned to Headquarters Company of the 319th Field Artillery Regiment for his entire service in the Army. He was made a corporal on 7 December 1917 and a supply sergeant on 1 February 1918. He was with the AEF from 19 May 1918 to 25 March 1919, and was honorably discharged on 4 April 1919.

Sometime between his discharge in 1919 and the 1920 U.S. census, Zalmon moved to Detroit, Michigan, where he was working as a mechanic. By 1924 he was married and had a son, and by 1927 the family had moved to the bustling city of Chicago, where some of Zalmon’s cousins lived. He had trouble getting good work, however, and was a paper hanger from 1924 to 1930.

Zalmon survived the Great War, but he did not make it through the Great Depression. He died 1 March 1930, in Chicago. His death was unexpected; he is buried in a section of the cemetery where the plots were sold individually, on an “as needed” basis. He is not far from a family member, though; his sister-in-law had died the previous year in a car accident and he is buried only two plots away from her.

Zalmon Orloff’s entry in Connecticut Men and Women in the Armed Forces of
the United States During World War, 1917–1920

Zalmon is the grandfather of a friend of mine. We are lucky to have a friend in the Chicago area, who tries to visit Zalmon’s grave on Veterans Day every year to let him know he is not forgotten.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Romanian Battlefront in World War I
Reviewed by Michael P. Kihntopf

The Romanian Battlefront in World War I
by Glenn E. Torrey
University of Kansas Press, 2011

NOTE: In 2012 The Romanian Battlefront in World War was awarded the annual Norman B. Tomlinson, Jr., Prize for the best work of history in English on World War One (1914–1918).

Romanian Troops Retreating, December 1916

For years authors have pummeled World War I aficionados with the statement that "the Great War's Eastern Front is largely ignored." This admonishment has of late become a cliché. Books by Jack Tunstall (Blood on the Snow, University of Kansas, 2010) and Timothy Dowling (The Brusilov Offensive, Indiana Press, 2008), to name only two among many authors, have brought much information about the Eastern Front to readers in the last few years. This book may finally put the neglect statement to rest among other passé adages of the time.

Author Glenn Torrey, professor emeritus of history at Emporia State University, has authored many pieces about the Eastern Front and especially Romania's part in the war, but this work surpasses those endeavors. It is a compilation of his previous works richly endowed with extensive archival research as well as quotes from personal correspondence from those who participated in the battles and campaigns. Much of the archival information, coming from Romanian sources, is new to Great War readers as are the personal observations. Torrey has opened a window to understanding Romania's part in the Great War through this research. However, this is not a book which delves into political rhetoric. On the contrary, the book is something I have not seen for quite some time—it is a military history dealing with battles, campaigns, and the personalities of the men who shaped those actions.

Torrey opens with a summary of how the Romanian government got involved in the war, and it is brief and to the point. Put simply, Prime Minister Ion Bratianu was an ardent nationalist who wanted to annex Austria-Hungary's Transylvania region, which was largely populated by Romanians. What follows after this chapter is a detailed description of the military efforts presented by the naïve leaders of the Romanian Army against a blooded, experienced Central Powers coalition of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Bulgaria in 1916. Torrey leads the reader through the invasion of Transylvania, showing how ill prepared the army was in materiel, leadership, and morale. Then he deftly shows how the Central Powers crushed the invasion sending the army reeling back across the Carpathians.

Normally, most authors have stopped at that point and bewailed the fate of the 500,000 man strong Romanian army which seemed to melt away. Torrey, however, takes us one step further to show how the army, albeit decimated, actually survived to regroup and retrain under its own leaders and with French assistance to become a more experienced organization that successfully matched their opponents in mid-1917. These chapters are not for a student of political science. They are for a person who will pour over maps placing 1st Army here and Russian allies there and fret over the timing of an attack on a nameless hill or the defense of an important pass whose loss would mean disaster. Torrey does this expertly, keeping the Romanian Army center stage with the Central Powers reacting to their counterattacks. Additionally, Torrey explores personages such as General Alexandru Averescu, who had a brilliant military mind that was befuddled in furthering his own image. I have researched Romanian actions for my own books, and I was delighted with Torrey's detail and surprised at the real depth of Romanian offenses and defenses.

This book is a must-read for the military maven as well as for those who have read only that the Romanian Army was soundly defeated and reliant on the Russians to maintain their front. Such works as this one will finally put a knife into the heart of the phrase "largely ignored".

Michael P. Kihntopf

Monday, May 18, 2015

Historian Trevor Wilson's Reflections on Anzac Day

Monash Gully at Anzac — Front Line in the Distance

The popular and provocative Aussie historian was interviewed on the 90th Anniversary of Anzac Day by the Australian Broadcast Corporation. He was asked about the significance of the great Australian holiday. The comments seem still interesting a decade later.

Why are Australians so concerned about Anzac Day?

Prof. Wilson:
They were very concerned of course about what happened to Britain. Australia regarded itself as a lonely part of the world in a very far-off area and the only thing they felt was keeping them secure was the British Navy, and if Britain went down to Germany the British Navy would go down to the German Navy, and Australia would be defenceless.

So there were these very strong feelings for so many Australians who were in fact recent migrants from Britain, or their parents certainly were. If you looked at the AIF most of them are either first-generation British or their parents are first-generation British so that there was this enormous association between Britain and its colonies, its white colonies anyway.

So do you see the First World War as being really Australians seeing themselves as an outpost of Britain going back there?

Prof. Wilson:

What about this idea that the nation was founded then? Do you agree with that idea?

Prof. Wilson:
Well, it was founded in the sense that the colonies joined together to make the Commonwealth of Australia, but that event in itself did not end the terrific association that most Australians felt towards Britain, towards the Empire.

There was a sense that Australia was a great power because it was part of the Empire. It's manifestly not a great power in its own right. It's a very little power, and if the rest of the world turns hostile against it and if the British Navy and the British power was not there to protect it, it was going to be in a very precarious situation.

See our recent Anzac Day posting at:

Saturday, May 16, 2015

100 Years Ago: The Gorlice-Tarnów Offensive & the Great Retreat Underway

In May 1915 a German/Austro-Hungarian offensive was launched against Russia that would result in the greatest victory of World War I by the Central Powers.

When: First Phase, 2 May – 22 June 1915
Where: Primarily in Poland, Starting Southeast of Kraków

For 1915 the chief of the German General Staff, Erich von Falkenhayn, had decided to look to the east.

  • His forces were bogged down in the west and his principal ally, Austria-Hungary, was almost "steamrollered" in the winter campaigns in Galicia.
  • For his first operation, he chose to attack over the Carpathian Mountains into Galicia against Russian forces that were still attacking.
  • Eight divisions were moved from the Western Front to form the new Eleventh Army under the command of  aggressive general August von Mackensen.  
  • Flanked by two Austrian armies, the force attacked in early May near the rail centers of Gorlice & Tarnów.

Russian Prisoners of War


The Gorlice-Tarnów Offensive succeeded beyond all expectations: one after another, Russian defensive lines were penetrated. Fortress Przemysl was recaptured, and Warsaw fell.

Then, on 9 July Russia's supreme commander, Grand Duke Nicholas ordered a scorched-earth retreat. By September, Poland and Galicia were lost and the Eastern Front was 300 miles east from its August 1914 starting point.

Greatest Victory by the Central Powers in WWI —

  • The Russian Army by the end had lost two million men killed, wounded, or captured.
  • A Symbolic Victory:  Gaining Almost All of Poland
  • A Psychological Victory:  The Russian High Command felt outmatched when facing the German Army for the rest of the war.

Possibly the worst result of the defeats — the tsar named himself commander-in-chief, leaving the tsaritsa and Gregorii Rasputin free to meddle in affairs in Petrograd.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Recommended: Behind Their Lines, a WWI Poetry Blog

I know from our comments and emails that we have a lot of war poetry fans who check in at Roads to the Great War.  Let me recommend Connie Ruzich's wide-ranging blog Behind Their Lines for you.  Here is a sample posting from 12 March 2015:

Remembering Jo

If not for the context in which Ernest Rhys's poem originally appeared (more on that later), "Jo's Requiem" would not be easily identifiable as a war poem at all.  The poem offers no description of the First World War,  not of the trenches, nor of the suffering and death that occurred there. 

Instead, this is a poem that is firmly grounded in the English countryside. There, a man simply named Jo earns his strength behind a plow, watches with sharp-eyed vision for birds that might threaten his newly sown seed, and is so attuned to his land that "He could hear the green oats growing,/and the south-west wind making rain." I'd like to meet that man. 

Jo's Requiem
by Ernest Rhys

He had the ploughman's strength
in the grasp of his hand;
he could see a crow
three miles away,
and the trout beneath the stone.
He could hear the green oats growing,
and the south-west wind making rain.
He could hear the wheel upon the hill
when it left the level road.
He could make a gate, and dig a pit,
and plough as straight as stone can fall.
And he is dead.

We learn that Jo has spent a lifetime in learning to read the subtle signs of life that surround him, spotting even "the trout beneath the stone."  His actions are neither noble nor heroic, yet he masters the world around him with skill and honest work, in making and digging. 

And he is dead. The last line of the poem breaks with all that has gone before and ends as abruptly a sniper's bullet or an artillery shell. We are not told if Jo fell "straight as stone can fall."  It doesn't matter how it happened; the details of his death are irrelevant as they will not change the reality of it. 

The poem's bare closing statement heartbreakingly expresses the utter finality of death. As Robert Frost writes in "Out, Out—", a poem of unexpected death on a farm, "No more to build on there." 

"Jo's Requiem" does not argue with death, nor does it attempt to glorify or justify the cause for which this man died. The poem deliberately refuses any explicit attempt at making meaning of Jo's death. What we are asked to see in the poem is one country man and his life, not the scope of the war or the nameless and faceless mass of the millions who died. 

Implicitly, however, there is a sense of injustice underlying the stark contrast of the poem's first 11 lines and its final sentence. Strength and keen-sightedness were not enough to save Jo, nor were his practical talents, resourcefulness, and listening ear. The poem doesn't try to explain Jo's death, for no sense can be made of a senseless war in which over nine million died. The poem only asks us to remember and to mourn, as signaled by its brief title, "Jo's Requiem." 

Unknown British Soldiers
Curiously, the poem at some point was re-titled "Lost in France." First published as "Jo's Requiem" in Rhys's volume of poetry The Leaf Burners (1918), it appeared as the last poem in a series of 20 related verses entitled "The Tommiad." The title of the verse sequence is a play on the "Iliad", suggesting an epic about British Tommies, the name given to British infantry soldiers. But Ernest Rhys was a Welsh writer, and the title of the verse sequence may also be a play on the Welsh word tomi, "to spread dung" or "to bespatter with dirt", suggesting a much less glorious view of the First World War.   

"Jo's Requiem" was retitled "Lost in France" as early as 1945 in a British anthology titled Soldiers' Verse. For a while the two titles appeared together, with "Lost in France" as the main title and "Jo's Requiem" as the subtitle. Most recently the subtitle has disappeared altogether. Several years ago the poem appeared on the London Underground as "Lost in France", marking Remembrance Day. 

But the title change is significant. It alters the poem from being a tribute to a single, knowable man to a more abstract comment on an enormous and indecipherable war. 

It is said that history repeats itself, and as actually happened in the First World War, the name of this man is being erased from memory. 

Rest in peace, Jo. 

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Thursday, May 14, 2015

Remembering a Veteran: Lance Corporal Fred Fisher, VC, 1st Canadian Division (5th Reg’t. Royal Highlanders of Canada)

Contributed by Jim Patton

Irish-born Lance Cpl Michael O’Leary of the Irish Guards (later commissioned in the Connaught Rangers) was the first Canadian to receive the Victoria Cross in the Great War, on 1 February 1915. Before the war O’Leary served in Canada with the Royal Northwest Mounted Police. Due to his Irish birth, O’Leary gained substantial publicity and notoriety; even a play by GB Shaw was based on O’Leary’s deeds. 

However, the first Canadian-born soldier serving with a Canadian unit to receive the VC was Lance Corporal Fred Fisher (posthumous), of the 13th Battalion Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF).

Cap Badge of the Royal Highlanders of Canada
The badge bears the image of St. Andrew and his 
cross, with the motto of the Stuarts: Nemo Me 
Impune Lacessit  (No one provokes me with 
impunity). The crown denotes a Royal regiment.
Born in St. Catherine’s, Ontario, his father was a bank manager and the family moved several times before settling in Montreal in 1905. As a schoolboy he excelled in both football and hockey. On 16 August 1914 he left his engineering studies at McGill University to join the 5th Regiment, Royal Highlanders of Canada. Three battalions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force were drawn from this militia unit: the 13th, 42nd and 73rd.

On 22 April 1915, when the Germans launched their infamous chlorine gas attack that began Second Ypres, Fisher formed and re-formed impromptu machine gun crews and repeatedly stopped advancing German units until he was killed on 23 April. His actions stopped the Germans from overrunning Canadian artillery before it could be withdrawn. His body was lost and he is commemorated on the Menin Gate. His VC is held by the RHRC museum.

Memorial Plaque in St. Catherine’s, Ontario