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

Friday, July 31, 2015

Report from Verdun: July 1916

Advancing to the Front at Verdun

July 7th - Under a terrible bombardment I arrive at my command post in the bois Fumin at 2 am, followed by my battalion. We left at 22:30 and had only 3 kilometers to go. We marched for 3 and a half hours without stopping, except at the end of the route, when pesky Very lights obliged us to wait for a few seconds. We marched so hard and even ran at times, that we are literally exhausted.

At the Front
The earth in front of my shelter has been shattered and tossed about. Entering, I see a cadaverous-looking infantryman crawling out from the mixture of earth, stones and rubble.   But after a few hours he's no longer the same; he's gone away and a tiralleur in khaki lies in his place.   Then other cadavers and uniforms replace him.  The  shell that buries one seems to unearth another; and yet one gets used to these sights; you ignore the indescribable stench of the slaughter-house in which we live, but any joy  in life will certainly be poisoned forever when the war is over.

As far as you can see, and that is long way indeed, for I have a splendid panoramic view of fort Douaumont and the surrounding heights, everything has been burnt, shattered, mixed up pell-mell with earth, rocks, debris and bodies.

Exposed and Under Fire
Can you imagine the heavy artillery concentration the Germans had to build up around Verdun before they could so thoroughly grind up the terrain occupied by the French, by  day and by night; every ridge, every ravine, every fort, every strong-point, every trench, every shelter a target for their special ordnance.

French Major - later Colonel - Roman , 358th Infantry Regiment 

Thanks to Christina Holstein for this.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Richthofen and Boelcke Get Acquainted

Richthofen's first posting as a pilot of single-seaters was to the Eastern Front. There, the German ace Oswald Boelcke—the first German pilot (along with fellow ace Max Immelmann) to receive the Orden Pour le Mérite, Germany's premier award for bravery—chose Richthofen and another young pilot, Erwin Böhme, to join his new fighter unit. Less than three months later, while chasing a British fighter, Boelcke's and Böhme's planes collided. Böhme landed safely, but Boelcke's plane lost a wing and, as Richthofen later described it, he "rushed into the abyss." At his death, Boelcke had 40 victories to his name. Here, the green Richthofen describes first meeting the great Boelcke.


The Champagne battle was raging. The French flying men were coming to the fore. We were to be combined in a Fighting Squadron and took the train on the 1st of October, 1915.

In the dining car, at the table next to me, was sitting a young and insignificant-looking lieutenant. There was no reason to take any note of him except for the fact that he was the only man who had succeeded in shooting down a hostile flying-man, not once but four times. His name had been mentioned in the dispatches. I thought a great deal of him because of his experience. Although I had taken the greatest trouble, I had not brought an enemy down up to that time. At least I had not been credited with a success.

I would have liked so much to find out how Lieutenant Boelcke managed his business. So I asked him: "Tell me, how do you manage it?" He seemed very amused and laughed, although I had asked him quite seriously. Then he replied: "Well, it is quite simple. I fly close to my man, aim well, and then of course he falls down." I shook my head and told him that I did the same thing but my opponents unfortunately did not come down. The difference between him and I was that he flew a Fokker and I my big fighting machine.

I took great trouble to get more closely acquainted with that nice, modest fellow whom I badly wanted to teach me his business. We often played cards together, went for walks, and I asked him questions. At last I formed a resolution that I also would learn to fly a Fokker. Perhaps then my chances would improve.


My whole aim and ambition became now concentrated upon learning how to manipulate the stick myself. Hitherto I had been nothing but an observer. Happily I soon found an opportunity to learn piloting on an old machine in the Champagne. I threw myself into the work with body and soul, and after 25 training flights I stood before the examination in flying alone.

Source:  Inside the Red Baron's Mind, by Peter Tyson, presented on Nova

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Weapons of War: Germany's Turtle Grenade

The trench war reinforced the long expressed need for grenades exploding on impact, leaving no opportunity for the enemy to grab it and send it back to the launcher like a conventional "time" grenade. In Germany an original and efficient answer was bring as soon as 1915 with the Discushandgranaten (called "turtle grenades" by the Allied soldiers). The offensive model was made of two thin steel plate shells, crimped together.

The disk grenade had a novel arming mechanism. The grenade contained a cross of four tubes with metal rods that blocked the spring-loaded firing pin. If the grenade was thrown with a spin, the restraining rods moved outward, releasing the firing pin which ignited the fuse. (This is a highly simplified explanation.)

It was made in two versions, an offensive version (.9 lb) for use against a specific target, and a defensive version (.8 lb) with a wide blast spread to defeat attacking waves of infantry.

During 1915, however, the "potato masher" grenade was perfected, which carried a larger charge and did not require as much of a wind-up to throw.

Sources: and

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

I Was There! With the Yanks in France: Sketches Made on the Western Front, 1917-1919
Reviewed by Peter L. Belmonte and David F. Beer

I Was There! With the Yanks in France: Sketches Made on the Western Front, 1917-1919
by Cyrus Leroy Baldridge
The LaFayette Co; 1st edition 1919

American Soldiers in Belgium at the Armistice

This is a slender booklet containing some interesting poems by a soldier-poet and some effective sketches by a soldier-illustrator, both in the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF). Magazine-sized, with 34 pages, ten poems, and 20 or so sketches, it was printed in France in 1919 (the cover bears the notation "Price Five Francs"), probably as a souvenir for departing Doughboys. The sketches were done by Private C Leroy Baldridge, a staff illustrator for the Stars and Stripes who was to become a well-known artist, illustrator, writer, and traveler. At the beginning of I Was There! he describes the circumstances that gave rise to his work:

These Sketches were made during a year's service as a camion driver with the French army in the Chemin-des-Dames sector and a year's service with the A.E.F. as an infantry private on special duty with "The Stars and Stripes," the official A.E.F. newspaper. Most of them were drawn at odd minutes during the French push of 1917 near Fort Malmaison, at loading parks and along the roadside while on truck convoy, and while on special permission to draw and paint with the French army given me by the Grand Quartier Gènèral during the time I was stationed at Soissons. The rest were drawn on American fronts from the Argonne to Belgium as my duties took me from one offensive to another.

The sketches, some in color, are wonderfully crafted, and it's not hard to see how Baldridge was to progress from "Doughboy artist" to professional painter and illustrator after the war. Some of our favorites include a depiction of several men caught, perhaps by a German flare, in No Man's Land; this sketch accompanies and enhances the poem "Relief". The illustration for another poem, "The Line," shows men standing in a chow line in the rain, something that seemed an everyday occurrence for the men at the front. Other sketches show Doughboys in the trenches or dugouts; one shows men advancing under fire. In addition to the many fine depictions of American soldiers there are some nice drawings of poilus and colonial soldiers.

Some of the sketches are composites of several soldiers squatting or standing, cooking stew, or just putting up with the rain. One titled "The Lids We Wear" shows nine figures, including a nurse and an airman, wearing the various hats issued to them. Another shows the heads and headgear of five different French colonial troops, with captions partly in Arabic. Two other portraits are of several dogs, including messenger dogs, a Red Cross dog, and war dogs, all donated to the cause by local French families, we are told. One dog has given his life, or as Baldridge's caption states, "mort pour la patrie."

One of the Black Doughboys
Who Fought Under the French
The poems interspersed among the sketches were written by Private Hilmar R. Baukhage, who also served on the Stars and Stripes in Paris during World War I. He later covered the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 and went on to become a noted radio reporter and commentator. The book opens with his dedication to both soldiers' mothers:

Ours the Great Adventure,
  Yours the pain to bear,
Ours the golden service stripes,
  Yours the marks of care.
If all the Great Adventure
  The old Earth ever knew,
Was ours and in this little book
  'Twould still belong to you!!

Baukhage's poems run the gamut (as much as ten poems can be considered to portray a "gamut") of soldier life. From "The Line", a poem "celebrating" standing in line (an experience most veterans can readily relate to), to "November Eleventh" celebrating the Armistice, the Doughboys' experiences are put to verse. "Prepare for Action" records the good-natured jibes given by an infantryman to an artilleryman and ends with the latter threatening the former when the infantryman dares to make fun of his beloved 75mm field piece. In "Salvage," Baukhage describes the soldiers' search through discarded clothing and equipment, some of which had belonged to men killed in action, in an effort to find usable shoes. "Relief" gives us a sense of the terror and nervous tension involved with taking one's turn on outpost duty in No Man's Land. Elsewhere we come close to the feelings of the grunt on KP as he peels potatoes or to the overburdened marcher as he slogs along:

My damn rifle and my helmet
Keep on getting in the way,
And my brains are numb and dopey
Try'n' to cuss and try'n' to pray.

My throat's as dry as sawdust
And my right arm's gone to sleep,
And the pack-strap on my shoulder
Cuts a slit two inches deep.

I just lift one foot and shove it
And it hits most any place,
Then I lift and shove the other
T'keep from falling on my face.        (from "Equipment C")

Order Now
A movingly nostalgic poem is about a soldier meeting a young French girl who reminds him of someone back home. Titled "Madelon," we quote it here in full:

It seemed years since I had seen one,—
Years of hiking, sweat and blood,
Didn't think there was a clean one
In these miles of men and mud.

Well, I stood there, laughing, drinking,
Kidding her on bon fransay
But the things that I was thinking
Were a thousand miles away.

Sewed my stripe on like a mother,
Gee! She was a pretty kid….
But I left her like a brother,—
Shake her hand was all I did.
Then I says: "Vous, all right, cherry,"
And my throat stuck, and it hurt. . .
And I showed her what I carry
In the pocket of my shirt..

After scrolling through Baldridge's sketches, which are vividly reproduced here, we gain a definite appreciation of his artistic skill and a deep feeling for the atmosphere of WWI army life. Although brief, this book can give us considerable enjoyment and makes a pleasant humanistic alternative to much that is written about the Great War.

Peter L. Belmonte and David F. Beer

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Battles of the American Expeditionary Forces (It's a Lot More Than One!)

Ten Battles of the AEF
Division Strength or Greater in Chronological Order

1st Division's Opening Attack at Cantigny

About 20 years ago, two of the "talking heads" (both American Academics) in the PBS television series The Great War and the Shaping of the 20th Century made the point that the United States military "only fought one battle" in the First World War. The intent was clearly to downplay, and in my opinion, to disparage the effort and sacrifices of Americans in the war.  This is a list I developed in response to those assertions.  

One point to be aware of: the standard American division of the time was about 28,000 men, which was two to two and a half times larger than those of the other combatants. Sometimes this number was reduced about 20 percent if the divisions fought under French or British command and they provided the artillery support. Generally, though, the commitment of an American division to a battle was the equivalent of a French or British corps.

1.  Cantigny

Date: 28–30 May 1918
General Location: Somme Sector
U.S. Units: 1st Division

3rd Division Machine Gunners That Stopped the German Army at the Marne

2.  Defense of the Marne River Line

Date:  31 May–10 July 1918
General Location: Immediate Vicinity of Château-Thierry
U.S. Units: 2nd and 3rd Divisions
AKA:  B. of Château-Thierry; inclusive of B. of Belleau Wood and B. of Vaux; Aisne Campaign

3.  Second Battle of the Marne, Defensive Phase

Date: 15–17 July 1918
General Location: Allied defensive line between Château-Thierry and Navarin Farm in Champagne
U.S. Units: 3rd, 42nd,  and elements of 28th Divisions
AKA: The Rock of the Marne (3rd Division portion); Champagne-Marne Campaign

Advancing During the Second Battle of the Marne

4.  Second Battle of the Marne, Offensive Phase

Date:  18 July–16 September 1918
General Location:  German Salient between Aisne & Marne Rivers, north to south, and Château-Thierry and Reims, east to west
U.S. Units: Nine U.S. Divisions committed
AKA: Aisne-Marne Campaign

5.  Frapelle

Date: 17 August 1918
General Location: Vosges Mountains
U.S. Units: 5th Division

6.  St. Mihiel Offensive

Date: 12–16 September 1918
General Location: St. Mihiel Salient, Southeast of Verdun
U.S. Units: First Army

1st Division Troops North of Exermont, Argonne Sector

7.  Meuse-Argonne Offensive

Date: 26 September–11 November 1918
General Location: west and north of Verdun
U.S. Units: First Army

8.  Breaking of Hindenburg Line and Pursuit to the Selle

Date: 27 September–1 October 1918; and 6–21 October 1918
General Location: Somme Sector
U.S. Units: II Corps (2 Divisions, tank battalion, and support units)
AKA:  B. of St. Quentin Canal

Marines with Captured Minenwerfer
9.  Blanc Mont

Date:  3–27 October 1918
General Location: Champagne
U.S. Units: 2nd and 36th Divisions
AKA:  Battle of Champagne, 1918; some sources include as part of Meuse-Argonne Offensive

10.  Lys Offensive in Flanders

Date: 30 October–11 November 1918
General Location: Flanders
U.S. Units: 37th and 91st Divisions
AKA: Pursuit to the Scheldt; Ypres-Lys Campaign

Other Notable Cases:

93rd Division Operations in the Champagne 

The four U.S. segregated regiments fought separately under different French Divisions.  However, if their effort in the fall 1918 fighting in the Champagne was aggregated it would be the equivalent of a major battle fought by a full division.

Second Army Offensive of 9 November 1918

Date: November 7-11, 1918
General Location: Woëvre Plain from Metz to Pont-à-Mousson
U.S. Units: Second Army
The next major offensive of the American Expeditionary Force was halted due to the Armistice.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Monet's Water Lillies and the Great War

The Musée de l'Orangerie (inset) is housed in the former orangery of the Tuileries Gardens built in 1852. In two specially designed rooms the museum houses Impressionist painter Claude Monet's "Les Nymphéas," a series of eight murals from his water lilies series. The paintings were donated to France by the artist at the end of the war; at time of the Armistice he wrote his friend Georges Clemenceau: "I am on the eve of finishing two decorative panels that I would like to sign and date with Victory Day, and I write to ask you to present them to the State on my behalf. It is a little thing, but it is the only way that I can take part in the general joy."

Luncheon Party at Giverny: Blanche and Claude Monet, Georges Clemenceau, and Guests

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Napoleon Bridge: A World War I and World War II Landmark

Admittedly, since Bonaparte fought all over Europe and the Mideast, it shouldn't be surprising that visitors to the Great War's battlefields might stumble across reminders of the Emperor's martial industriousness. Here's one such site from the Italian Front that's beautiful to behold — the Napoleon Bridge at the Caporetto battlefield.

Both Soča  (formerly the Isonzo) banks below Kobarid (formerly Caporetto) were already linked in the past by a bridge. The old bridge was constructed in and received its name when Napoleon’s troops marched across it. On 24 May 1915, the first day after Italy had declared war, retreating Austrian soldiers blew up the bridge. Afterward, the Italians initially built a wooden bridge, later replacing it with an iron one. The temporary bridge was blown up by the retreating Italian 2nd Army during the Battle of Caporetto.  

The current bridge was built after the Great War by the Italian government. In the Second World War, the Partisans defended the liberated territory of the Kobarid Republic near the bridge. The WWII marker (above), being something of a reminder of Slovenia's communist past, is not emphasized in tourism handouts today. In memory of these events there are two memorials for each World War near the bridge.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Reasons America Went to War: The Official Position

In 1918, an arm of the American government in order to assure continued public support for the war effort published the "Reasons" why American chose to enter the World War. Since this was done by a U.S. Government-funded and -supervised organization, these carried the weight of "official" pronouncements. The organization responsible for distributing this information was called the Committee for Public Information which played a number of roles for the American government during the war, including serving as a propaganda ministry. Below is a clearly stated list of reasons for America declaring war expressed with some florid language of the propagandist. Nevertheless, this clearly summarizes what the citizenry was told about why their nation was fighting a costly war. 

  • The renewal by Germany of her submarine warfare. 

  • Imperial Germany was running amuck as an international desperado. 

  • Prussian militancy and autocracy let loose in the world disturbed the balance of power and threatened to destroy the international equilibrium. 

  • The conflict [had gradually shaped] into a war between the democratic nations on one hand and autocratic on the other. 

  • [America's] tradition of isolation had grown outworn and could no longer be maintained in the age of growing interdependency. 

  • Because of the menace to the Monroe Doctrine and to [America's] independence. 

George Creel
This 1918 list does not include much about matters of realpolitik, barely hinting at such things as any calculation of national interests, President Wilson's post-hostility intentions, or any recognition that some of the 1917 assumptions behind the decision to join the fray were less than "spot on." On this last matter, a new form of  international mischief was now germinating in the land of one of the nation's original wartime associates, where the fall of autocratic "tsarism" in March 1917 and its replacement by the now failed quasi-democratic Provisional Government had apparently removed one of the obstacles to America joining the war on the Allies' side. I guess it is no great discovery that official government statements are not always complete, accurate, or fail to point out earlier miscalculations.  

The brainchild of muckraking journalist George Creel, the Committee for Public Information was an overt propaganda bureau during the First World War and succeeded in that role. The country remained, by and large, behind the war while it was being fought, the idea of the press or politicians with an ideological agenda undercutting the troops in the field remained utterly unthinkable, and — contrary to what is sometimes alleged — there was no government-led bashing of German-heritage citizens. The committee, however became huge, influential, and probably inevitably, quite unpopular. The public, Congress, and even the president came to resent the intrusiveness of the committee.

Their pamphlet The Study of the Great War was the source of the material in this article. A branch of the committee also supervised production of all the American war posters of the war, such as the example above. MH

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Operation ZZ: Dramatic Conclusion to the War at Sea

HMS Cardiff Leading the German Fleet to the Firth of Forth

After tense negotiation, Germany had agreed to deliver its fleet — into the hands of the Allies. The delivery was to be made 10 days after the Armistice of Compiegne.

Operation ZZ , as it was designated, was executed on 21 November 1918.  Two days earlier nine German battleships, five battlecruisers, seven cruisers and 50 destroyers had set sail, heading west. Under the terms of the Armistice which had ended the war they were to hand themselves over in the Firth of Forth, before being brought to the lonely Orkney anchorage of Scapa Flow.

After four years of conflict and the battles of Dogger Bank and Jutland, the undefeated Imperial German Navy steamed into the Firth of Forth to surrender. Accompanied by American and French ships, the British Grand Fleet, including 33 battleships and 90,000 men were assembled in what must have been a once-in-a-life-time scene:

High Seas Fleet Approaching

This letter is dated 22 November 1918 and written from the battleship HMS Hercules. It describes the surrender of the German High Seas Fleet at the very end of the First World War, 1914–1918.

When I went on deck, the German fleet was steaming down between our two fleets, in an opposite direction, led by one of our light cruisers, the Cardiff. Each British fleet was about 3 miles distant from the Germans. After we had passed them, the two British fleets did a magnificent 16 points turning movement and steamed down the German line, closing in on them at the same time, and so they were escorted into the Forth. . .

The scene is impossible of description.
T. Smith

This grand turning movement was part victory parade and part warning demonstration against the futility of continuing hostilities. It was concluded with the German fleet being entirely surrounded. Not simply grandiose, the manoeuvre was designed to overawe the German seamen, for Smith makes it plain, "The fleet was never in more readiness for action, for we never trusted them at any time."

A Triumphant Moment
Admiral David Beatty (RN), Admiral Hugh Rodman (USN), King George V (RN Officer),
the Prince of Wales, Admiral William Sims (USN)

At day's end,  Rear Admiral W S Chalmers observed:

So at dusk as the sky reddened over the Scottish hills, the buglers of the British fleet sounded the call 'Sunset', the ensigns of the Imperial German Navy fluttered slowly down for the last time. And darkness closed like a curtain on the final act of this mighty drama at sea.

Sources: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich; BBC Website

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

WWI on My Facebook Page

Regular readers probably know I have a hard time with Facebook. I don't get it. All the people close to me, our editorial team, and those I work with on military history all tell me I MUST have a Facebook page for our publications. I've promised them that it's coming soon, but I'm still trying to figure out why I MUST have it, how it will build our readership,  and the best way to set it up and operate it.  

The above being stipulated, I have to say that on my personal Facebook page, due to my "Liking" and "Friending" at a very minimal level of networking, I'm getting a whole bunch of great WWI images.  I thought you would like to see a few from the 30 or so I received in just the last week in June 2015.  I guess this shows I MUST  have a Facebook page for our publications, so I am working on it.

American Troops on Parade, 4 July 1918
Thanks to  WWI Centennial Commission

Lochnagar Mine Crater after the War, Somme Sector
Thanks to Martin Galle

Village Memorial Listing 20 Dead, Mondaye Abbey, France
Thanks to Michael Neiberg

Memorial Day Event, Oise-Aisne U.S. Cemetery
Thanks to American Battle Monuments Commission

British Soldiers with Captured Material, Gully Ravine, Helles Sector, Gallipoli
Thanks to GW 100

Quilt Created for Cpl. Carl Andrews, 40th Division, by His Wife
Thanks to the National WWI Museum

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania
Reviewed by Clark Shilling

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania
by Erik Larsen
Crown Publishing, 2015

The term "dead wake" is used by sailors to describe a dissipating wake. It is used in this case to describe the trail of bubbles left by a submarine's torpedo as it streaks towards its target.

Lusitania in Its Heyday 

Timed for release on the centennial of the sinking of the Lusitania, best-selling author Erik Larsen has again done what he does best — taking a large historic event and through extensive and meticulous research, retelling the true stories of the famous and not so famous participants, and here and there sprinkling in little known facts and technical tidbits, making his creation read like a thrilling work of fiction.

The two main protagonists are of course the two ships, one a huge passenger liner, flagship of the Cunard Line, carrying almost 2000 passengers and crew; the other, a small, slow, cramped German U-boat carrying 36 crewmen and a lethal cargo of torpedoes. As the two ships begin their journey to their fateful encounter, Larsen gives us a primer on the design and operation of both. The Lusitania represents the technological apogee of an age and empire caught in a destructive war that was rapidly producing new ways to kill people. The other ship, U-20, was one of those lethal new ways.

Captain William Turner, the old, solid, competent captain of the Lusitania was in every way a skilled and brave mariner. His only shortcoming was a desire to avoid the social responsibilities required of the captain of a large passenger liner. Turner's opposite, Kapitänleutnant Walther Schweiger, captain of the U-20, was much younger than Turner but was a skilled and experienced submariner. Known by his crew for his humor and kindness, he was an aggressive U-boat commander with a reputation for ruthlessness.

Among the other famous protagonists of this story is the president of the United States, Woodrow Wilson. Our first glimpse of Wilson is in August of 1914 as the Great War is starting. He is a grieving widower, burying his first wife in August 1914. Only eight months later he meets a new love and engages in an ardent courtship. During the week that the Lusitania was heading toward Liverpool, Wilson was emotionally crushed by her rejection of his marriage proposal. One of the interesting sidelights that Larsen includes is the fact that Wilson often took walks by himself, unescorted, and he enjoyed taking long drives in the White House limousine to unwind.

Winston Churchill flits in and out of the story as First Lord of the Admiralty, visiting the Western Front and watching disaster unfold in the then two-week-old battle he had championed on Gallipoli. We meet Captain William "Blinker" Hall, the director of intelligence in the British Admiralty, who worked out of the now famous Room 40, where German radio messages were intercepted and decoded, and where German ships including the U-20 were being tracked.

We are also introduced to a multitude of passengers on the Lusitania. Their experiences become the core of the story: the millionaire playboy, the Broadway producer, the Boston bookseller, the famous artist and philosopher, the first female architect, and the many families traveling with small children.

One of Larsen's trademarks is to create vivid images through interesting stories that have not been told before. For example, most people who are students of World War I have a mental picture  of Christmas Day 1914 during the famous Christmas Truce; images of British and German soldiers meeting in No Man's Land in Flanders to trade cigarettes and candy for buttons and cap badges. Add to that image now one of the captain and crew of the U-20, on that same Christmas evening, on a shallow, sandy spot on the bottom of the North Sea having their Christmas celebration, which included a wreath and music provided by a violin, a mandolin, and an accordion. The rum ration was brought out and the crew enjoyed as riotous a party as could be had in a cramped vessel sitting on the sea bottom under 60 feet of water.

And then there is the sinking of that fine vessel. Larsen uncovers the fact that Turner was not ordered to zigzag, as has been widely reported in other accounts. Ironically, the only time he did zigzag, he was taking a bearing off the coast of Ireland, and the maneuver put him right into the crosshairs of U-20. As the unthinkable event unfolds 11 miles off the coast of Ireland, Larsen vividly captures the panic and the drama of the 18 minutes it took the ship to sink. Then finally, he deals with the aftermath: children without parents, parents without children, families broken by the loss of loved ones, and finally the mass graves for many of the almost 1200 victims.

Mass Burial of Lusitania Victims at Queenstown, Ireland

The author is not out to prove any new conspiracy theories about the Lusitania being sacrificed in order to bring the United States into the war on Britain's side. He does not contend that the ship was armed or was carrying a secret cargo. Larsen concludes the fatal rendezvous was the product of several unrelated events and distractions that allowed the proud ship to sail unprotected into the known path of Schweiger and his crew on that fateful sunny afternoon 100 years ago.

With the publication of Dead Wake, Erik Larsen has landed his fourth book on the New York Times Best Seller list. In addition, Amazon named Dead Wake as the Best Book of the Month for March,2015. To paraphrase the author in his introduction, it is a very, very good story.

Clark Shilling

Monday, July 20, 2015

How the War Was Lost: The Food Weapon?

By Mark Harrison, Professor of Economics, University of Warwick

[Editor's note:  It is our practice to present discussions that can viewed as controversial or counter to what's been previously accepted historical facts or analysis. We neither endorse nor dispute Professor Harrison's argument.  Comments are welcome. MH]

Children's Soup Kitchen, Wartime Germany

Hunger was decisive in the collapse of the German home front in 1918. Was Germany starved out of the war by Allied use of the food weapon? In Germany, this myth became prevalent and assumed historic significance in Hitler’s words (cited by Collingham 2011: 37) of 1939:

“I need the Ukraine, so that no one is able to starve us again, like in the last war.”

It is true that Germany imported 20–25 percent of calories for human consumption before the war. Wartime imports were limited by an Allied blockade at sea and (via pressure on neutrals) on land. At the same time, German civilians suffered greatly — hunger-related mortality is estimated at around 750,000 (Davis and Engerman 2006: 204).

But decisions made in Berlin, not London, did the main damage to German food supplies. The decision to attack Germany’s main food suppliers struck the first blow. In 1913 the German economy was more interlinked with future adversaries than allies. Britain, France, Italy, and Russia accounted for 36 percent of prewar German trade. Britain alone provided more German trade than the 12 percent share of Austria‐Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire combined (Gartzke and Lupu 2012, Kramer 2013).

Gerd Hardach (1987) conjectured that the effects of the loss of trade were outweighed by Germany’s war mobilisation. Mobilisation policies damaged food production in several ways (described by Feldman 1966). On the side of resources, mobilisation diverted young men, horses, and chemical fertilisers from agricultural use to the front line. Farmers’ incentives to sell food were weakened when German industry was converted to war production and ceased to supply the countryside with manufactures. Government initiatives to hold down food prices for the consumer did further damage.

Because trade supplied at most one quarter of German calories, and German farmers the other three quarters, it is implausible to see the loss of trade as the primary factor. Germany’s own war effort probably did more to undermine food supplies.

Source:  Four myths about the Great War of 1914-1918, VOX, CEPR's Policy Portal

Also see our earlier posting on starvation and the war:

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Last British Square Was Formed in World War I

Contributed by James Patton

On August 18th the Fusiliers marched out with the 1/2 King's African Rifles to attack Narunyu, about twenty miles south-west of Lindi. They moved north, then west, and then south, to take the position from the west. Near the hill overlooking Narunyu the King's African Rifles were heavily engaged, and the Fusiliers at once formed with them a hollow square. It was as well they had taken the precaution, for very soon they were attacked from all sides. In this confined position they fought for five days, with very little water, no cooked food and hardly any undisturbed rest. On the night of August 22nd they were ordered to retire, and did so under cover of darkness.
The Royal Fusiliers in the Great War by H.C. O’Neill, OBE 

This desperate, obscure little fight in 1917 in southern Tanganyika saw the last British Square in history. These Fusiliers were the remnant of the 25th Royal Fusiliers (City of London) (hereafter ‘25/RF’). Officially called the "Frontiersmen" and familiarly "The Old and Bold," 25/RF was recruited by a group called the Legion of Frontiersmen (hereafter "Legion") for service in East Africa, and was one of the most unusual affinity-based units raised in the New Army.

"The Old and the Bold" in Formation

The Legion was founded in 1905 by Capt. H. Roger Pocock, a swashbuckler who had, amongst his experiences, chased outlaws with the Northwest Mounted Police (including Butch Cassidy), scouted as an irregular in the Boer War, and covered the Russo-Japanese War for a British newspaper. Pocock envisioned a field intelligence corps, which appealed to men who had engaged the Boer commandos in what is today called asymmetrical warfare, where a vital need is to find and keep track of the enemy.  

Pocock wanted war ministry recognition.  Among his supporters were Admiral HRH Prince Louis of Battenberg, husband of a niece of Edward VII (also a grandfather of the present Duke of Edinburgh) and the coal mine heir the Earl of Lonsdale, a former Arctic explorer and senior officer in the Imperial Yeomanry during the Boer War. Pocock badgered Viscount Esher, who had chaired the 1904 army reform committee, until Esher insisted that he would have no further dealings with Pocock. He was replaced by Lt. Col. Daniel P. Driscoll, DSO, whose "Driscoll’s Scouts" had served with distinction in South Africa. Driscoll got along with Esher, but the Legion never got Crown recognition. As for Roger Pocock, he was commissioned in the Labour Corps in 1915, then talked his way into the RAF in 1918. 

In August 1914 Driscoll’s offer to deploy the Legion with the BEF as irregular scouts was denied. Nevertheless, in October about 30 members of the Legion’s "H" Troop (Manchester) attached themselves to the Belgian Army under the name "The British Colonial Horse." They fought with the 3rd Co. 3rd Lancers at the Yser Canal.

Lt. Col. Daniel Patrick Driscoll, DSO, 
Vanity Fair,  15 February 1911
In January 1915 Kitchener allowed the Legion to form 25/RF, with Driscoll as CO. The Legion’s London HQ teemed with volunteers, many past 40. One source described them as “a motley collection of seamen, soldiers of fortune, cowboys, explorers – many of these men with strange life stories and knowing the shadier sides of the law." Another said something similar: "including men of various ages and with strange experience from all quarters of the globe." Erskine Childers, the gun-running Irish Nationalist, ran recruiting for 25/RF at the London HQ during 1915–16.

25/RF was the only British unit sent out  during the war without preliminary training. The battalion, 1,166 strong, reached Mombasa on 4 May 1915 and were sent to protect the Uganda railway from raids. From the outset their worst enemy was malaria.  More men joined up in Africa, including the noted African explorer and safari guide Frederick C. Selous (namesake of the Selous Scouts, an elite Rhodesian unit in the 1970s). The 64-year-old Selous, a friend of both Theodore Roosevelt and Cecil Rhodes, was commissioned a lieutenant, likely the oldest junior officer in the line. 

Lt. Wilbur Dartnell, VC
At Bukoba on Lake Victoria in June, 400 men of 25/RF helped to drive out the Germans and destroy the wireless station. However, men were accused of looting and 25/RF were withdrawn to Voi in southern Kenya pending disciplinary action. In August two companies were dispatched by rail to defend Maktau,  then the railhead of the new military railway from Mombasa to Taveta. Here Lt. Wilbur Dartnell, an Australian Boer War veteran, received the Victoria Cross. The citation reads:

On 3 September 1915, near Maktau, Kenya, during a mounted infantry engagement, the enemy were so close that it was impossible to get the more severely wounded away. Lieutenant Dartnell, who was himself being carried away wounded in the leg, seeing the situation, and knowing that the enemy's [African] troops murdered the wounded, insisted on being left behind, in the hope of being able to save the lives of other wounded men. He gave his own life in a gallant attempt to save others.

For the rest of 1915 25/RF covered the extension of the rail line from Maktau toward the German frontier. Two hundred fifty seven replacements arrived from South Africa in January 1916, and on 5 March 450 members of 25/RF joined General Stewart's column, moving around west of Kilimanjaro, chasing the Germans southward, constantly in action through to Handeni. At the site called Kahe they repelled a determined German counterattack.

On 24 June 25/RF moved further south to Kwa Direma on the Lukigura River, where two companies stormed an enemy position with fixed bayonets and captured one of the 4.1” guns salvaged from SMS Koenigsberg.  

25/RF were sent back to Makindu in Kenya where they received 150 replacements. In August they were landed at Dar-es-Salaam, and were sent to join the attack on Morogoro, the last outpost on the German railway. Once again the number of fit men had dwindled to less than 200. 

Capt.  Frederick G. Selous
They moved south to Kissaki, where they received 117 replacements. Shortly thereafter, they crossed the Rufiji River at Behobeho, where on 4 January 1917, Acting Capt. Selous was killed by a sniper. Theodore Roosevelt wrote this eulogy:

He led a singularly adventurous and fascinating life, with just the right alternations between the wilderness and civilization. He helped spread the borders of his people's land. He added much to the sum of human knowledge and interest. He closed his life exactly as such a life ought to be closed, by dying in battle for his country while rendering her valiant and effective service. Who could wish a better life or a better death, or desire to leave a more honorable heritage to his family and his nation?

Down to less than 100 men, 25/RF was withdrawn to the Cape where they received 384 replacements. Although by this time most of the Allied force was made up of Africans, in May 25/RF was sent back to Lindi for one stint in southern Tanganyika. They soldiered through that summer, at Ziwani, Tandamuti Hill,  Narunyu, and in the Lukuledi Valley they covered the withdrawal. 

In October they fought their last battle at Nyangao. On 27 December 1917 the remaining ten officers and 225 men were withdrawn to England via the Cape. One history lists a roll of 1,983 served, 197 dead, and 38 missing. Thus about 1,483 were invalided out or dismissed. 25/RF was officially disbanded on 1 July 1918. Able-bodied men were transferred to other Fusilier battalions.

On the March in Africa

Battle honors awarded to 25/RF were: Kilimanjaro, Behobeho, Nyangao, and East Africa 1915–17. The Legion had chapters in all of the Dominions, and Frontiersmen served in other units, notably the 210th Bn. CEF. The Legion still exists.  


Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Gallipoli Armistice

On 19 May 1915 more than 40,000 Ottoman troops attacked the Anzac perimeter, determined to drive the invaders back into the sea. At The Nek, Arab and Turkish infantry made repeated attempts to breach the Anzac defences, each attack collapsing in the face of accurate machine gun and rifle fire. An estimated 3000 Ottoman soldiers died during the failed attack, and their bodies were left to rot in No-Man’s-Land alongside Anzac dead from earlier battles. The fouled state of the line became too much to endure, and both sides agreed to a 24-hour truce on 24 May 1915 to bury the dead. 

In front of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles’ position at The Nek,

… just over the parapet a few yards back along the beach, there were five of our boys all dead from the first Tuesday [27 April], a Lieutenant, 3 privates, and a bugler; the smell, during the broiling days from the bodies, was awful and I had to throw disinfectant over them three or four times a day. We couldn’t get out to bury them and they were partly covered by the earth thrown up in making the trench. It was quite sufficient to show one’s hand as one threw over the disinfectant, to draw fire from the Turks. They were all lying on their stomachs facing the enemy and the poor little bugler’s bugle was riddled with bullets where it was slung on his back, each bullet having passed through him. He lay there with his entrenching tool still poised in the air to make a blow towards digging himself in but his head had fallen forward. They all five had their hats on and it was a pitiable sight to see such a sight through the mirrors of a periscope. What a picture for an artist…

Sources:  New Zealand History Website; Quote from Charles Saunders, New Zealand Engineers, in Gavin McLean, Ian McGibbon and Kynan Gentry (eds), The Penguin Book of New Zealanders at War, Penguin, Auckland, 2009.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Who Was Mikhail Frunze?

Mikhail Vasilyevich Frunze (1885–1925) was a brilliant Soviet army officer and military theorist, and is regarded as one of the fathers of the Red Army.

After becoming a Bolshevik as a student in St. Petersburg in 1904, Frunze took part in the Revolution of 1905. After frequent arrests for revolutionary activity, he escaped in 1915 to conduct agitation in the Russian army, first on the western front and, after the February 1917 Revolution, in Belorussia. He led Red Guards during the October Revolution in Moscow.

He became one of the outstanding commanders of the Civil War, commanding, in turn, the eastern front against Admiral A.V. Kolchak in 1919 and the southern front, where General P.N. Wrangel was routed, in 1920. He became deputy people’s commissar for war in March 1924 and replaced Leon Trotsky as people’s commissar for war in January 1925. In 1924 he also became a candidate member of the Politburo.

Frunze was one of a group that opposed Trotsky’s views during the Civil War and, in consequence, won the support of Joseph Stalin, who ensured his advance after 1921. He was the author of the “unitary military doctrine,” according to which the army should be trained throughout in a spirit of offensive action, united by its ideology and by its determination to carry out the task of the Communist Party—the promotion of world revolution. This could not, in his view, be achieved so long as the army was commanded by officers of the old imperial army, whom Trotsky, of practical necessity, had put in command of the new Red Army after 1918. Frunze asserted that the form of the Soviet military establishment should flow directly from the revolutionary and class character of the Soviet state. He helped lay the basis for a permanent and efficient peacetime Soviet military machine by introducing peacetime compulsory military service and by standardizing military formations, drills, and uniforms. A notable diplomatic achievement of Frunze was made through his support of Mustafa Kemal when Frunze was a representative to Turkey in the postwar period. It resulted in an accommodation between the Soviets and the longtime rival of the tsarist empire.

1960 Stamp Honoring the 75th Anniversary of Frunze's Birth

He was the first chief of the staff of the Red Army and succeeded Leon Trotsky as the people's commissar for army and navy affairs. Considered a possible successor to Lenin, Frunze died from an overdose of chloroform under suspicious circumstances during surgery for an ulcer.  No evidence has been uncovered, however, to support suspicions that Stalin or other rivals were responsible. Until 1998, the Soviet and Russian Federation army staff college bore his name.

Sources:  Encyclopedia Britannica, Wikipedia

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Questioning God's Purpose in Time of War

A letter from Pvt. Walter Bromwich (1899-1974) to his hometown minister in Pennsylvania.  His unit, the 6th Engineers, fought with the highly active 3rd (Marne) Division of the AEF.

Members of the 6th Engineers Building a Pontoon Bridge on the Marne River, July 1918
Pvt. Bromwich May Have Participated in This Operation

Dear Reverent:

Here I sit in my little home on the side of the hill thinking of the little church back home, wondering how you are getting along. Don't think I am down-hearted because I am writing you, but it's a queer thing I can't explain, that ever since I volunteered I've felt like a a cog in a huge wheel. The cog may get smashed up, but the machine goes on, and I know I share in the progress of that machine whether I life or die, and that seems to make everything all right. Except, perhaps, when I lose a pal, it's generally one of the best but yet it may be one of the worst. And I can't feel God is in it.

How can there be fairness in one man being maimed for life, suffering agonies, another killed instantaneously, while I get out of it safe?  Does God really love us individually or does he He love His purpose more? Or is it better to believe he makes the innocent suffer for the guilty and that things will be squared up some day when those who have escaped suffering here will suffer, and those who have suffered here will escape suffering.  Sounds rather calculation, doesn't it, and not a bit like the love of a Father.

What I would like to believe is that God is in this war, not as a spectator, but backing up everything that is good in us. He won't work any miracles for us because that would be helping us to do the work He's give us to do on our own. I don't know whether God goes forth with armies but I do know that He is in lots of our men or they would not do what they do.

Do write me and let me know how the church is getting along. Remember me to all — especially The Altar Guild, and tell them to "carry on" the war work.  My motto is "carry on."  So here's good-luck to all.

Yours sincerely,

Pvt. Walter T. Bromwich
Company A, 6th U.S. Engineers American Expeditionary Force

Four months after writing this letter, Bromwich was shot in both the back and head during combat. After extensive hospitalization, he recovered fully from his wounds.

From: Grace Under Fire: Letters of Faith in Times of War by Andrew Carroll

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Gertrude Bell: Shaper of the Modern Middle East

By Diane Rooney

Gertrude Bell

When most people think about World War One campaigns in the Middle East, chances are only one name comes immediately to mind: T. E. Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia. Lawrence truly made significant contributions to the Middle East campaign, but he also benefited from being "discovered" by writer and film maker Lowell Thomas. Thomas filmed Lawrence and the Middle Eastern environment in 1918. After the war, he toured the world, relentlessly promoting his film, With Allenby in Palestine and Lawrence in Arabia, much of which had been shot on site in the desert. A subsequent generation came to know Lawrence in the person of Peter O'Toole in David Lean's epic film, released in 1962. 

Gertrude Bell (1868–1926) never had a promoter like Lowell Thomas, but her contributions were remarkable, especially given both the British and Arab cultures she was working with. In addition to her skills as a linguist, archaeologist, mountain climber, world traveler, photographer, and diarist, she worked as a British intelligence agent at the Cairo-based Arab Branch during World War I, where she was a close associate of Lawrence.  She attended the Versailles treaty conference in 1919 and was the only woman at the 1921 Cairo Conference which outlined Britain's Middle East policy for several decades. For many years she was based in Baghdad and worked as a critical member of the British team that created the modern nation of Iraq, and she developed and organized collections for what became the Baghdad Archaeological Museum, which opened in 1926. 

Winston Churchill, Gertrude Bell, and T.E. Lawrence During the 1921 Cairo Conference

Her education, broad interests, and family connections and support helped prepare her for her extraordinary career. Gertrude spoke six languages beyond her native English (Arabic, Persian, French, German, Turkish, and Italian). She graduated with first class honors in modern history from Oxford University in 1887.

And finally, long after T.E. Lawrence, she is getting her movie. Werner Herzog's film Queen of the Desert premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in February. Nicole Kidman plays Gertrude Bell; Lawrence is played by Twilight and Harry Potter star Robert Pattinson. 

An enormous archive of Gertrude Bell's materials, including photographs, letters, and diaries, is available online through Newcastle University in the UK at this website:

Our longtime editorial team member Diane Rooney is presenting her talk, "Gertrude Bell and the Great War in the Middle East" at the August meeting of the SF Bay Area Chapter of the World War 1 Historical Association. The meeting is Saturday August 8 at 10:30 a.m. at the Albany Veterans Center, 1325 Portland Avenue, Albany CA. Free admission, free street parking. Refreshments provided.